Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Roger Ebert

I've enjoyed the recent "Whither The Movie Critic?" chatter (here and here), so reading the recent news that Roger Ebert is in serious condition after emergency surgery seems almost off-puttingly personal.

Roger Ebert means something to me, as he does to most North Americans. In my case, it was in fact his writing that turned me on. In 1982 was a kid who perused the shelves at the local library. I hadn't seen his show with Gene Siskel, but I could recognize the man thanks to a SCTV send-up I had committed to memory. And there he was, on the cover of A Kiss Is Still A Kiss. I figured if he was on TV (PBS, at the time) that was probably worth something, so I took the book home. A week later I went back to the library and took out his Movie Handbook. I read every word of that, too. Roger Ebert was my first movie critic.

Right from the start, Ebert developed the habit of including other critics in the conversation. Thanks to him, I discovered Pauline Kael. After that, it's a game of Six Degrees of Roger Ebert. Thanks to Kael, David Edelstein is in the business of good movie writing. Edelstein frequently reminds me of what Jay Scott did so well. When Jay Scott passed away, Geoff Pevere became the only Canadian movie critic worth reading. And though Pevere has participated in some grand books, none of them, alas, are devoted to the movies. For my money David Thompson's Biographical Dictionary of Film sets the standard as ideal summer reading -- for this, or any summer. And of course, there's always the Ebert canon: The Great Movies, Great Movies II and Ebert's Book of Film.

Precious few film reviewers bother the reader with anything more confidential than, "I didn't like this movie because it was too stupid for me." Movie goers might not be the cleverest people in the world, but if you're writing for publication I hope you believe your readers are. And readers know when a writer is on the hunt of something grand -- a larger sense of why identity and the ability to deal with life is dependent on what one sees on the silver screen. When a writer has that perspective, what they say has the right to be taken seriously. Otherwise, it's just one schmuck's opinion against another's -- and you can go to the blogosphere for that.

9 comments:

DarkoV said...

"...it's just one schmuck's opinion against another's -- and you can go to the blogosphere for that".

As a card-carrying member of the Associated Society of Sshmucks, I feel both viliifed and complemented that you mentioned us in your recent Dropping-names-like-cow-dollops-on-a-pasture posting. Let me see if we can get you a complimentary lifetime membership. Hats are an option for initiates.

Whisky Prajer said...

You mean I might become an honorary A.S.S.?! Now that's a club I'll be happy to join!

Whisky Prajer said...

BTW, aren't the comments on the 2Blowhards posting a hoot? Dave Kehr and "Z. Smith" must be having trouble clearing their sinuses.

Jim said...

I read Ebert for his writing too. It's stellar. Somebody ought to start a thread of favorite Ebert lines. Nobody can slam a bad film like he can.

In fact, not many columnists can write like he can, period. I used to read Vincent Canby of the New York Times back when I worked in the city, years ago. He was a bit of a stuff-shirt, but at least he could write, and he knew how to dissect a movie and also how to speak about it as a whole.

Ebert can do that too, and even maintain a breezy readability while he's at it.

Reel Fanatic said...

I wish Ebert nothing but the best and a full recovery, but as a critic, I lost faith in him long ago ... he just gives too many faulty movies a quick thumbs up, in my opinion

Whisky Prajer said...

Jim - I especially enjoyed his recent evisceration of Catwoman (here). He did publish a collection of his worst reviews, but I'm not sure I'm up to the task of revisiting his thoughts on all those Weekends With Bernies.

rf - the years between his penultimate operation and this last one seemed especially soft, critically. I thought he was regaining some of his flint in the last year or so, but in the early stages of his chemo and recovery he was giving passes to stuff that would have earned his scorn a year earlier. Now that I think of it, Gene Siskel's reviewing became especially sentimental between his two final operations.

Scott said...

I've always followed and admired Ebert, even though I agree that he does tend to show kindness to filmmakers who haven't earned it. The worst for me was his thumbs-up review for the recent "Haunting" remake.

It's a remarkably terrible movie, and Ebert admitted as much, but he still recommended it because of the spectacular set design. Sorry, Roger, but I need more than a cool-looking mansion before I cough up my time and money!

Searchie said...

Many years ago, I heard Roger Ebert speak at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. Near the end of his talk, he mentioned that his then-reviewing partner, Gene Siskel, had bid on (and won) Tony Manero’s/John Travolta’s iconic white disco suit from “Saturday Night Fever.”

“It fit Gene perfectly,” Ebert said, “except (…beat…) he had to have the crotch taken in.”

What a guy.

Whisky Prajer said...

Ha! I wonder if he doesn't miss giving Siskel a ribbing. Seems to me this Roeper guy - a card-carrying A.S.S. if ever there was one - gets off far too lightly when put up against Ebert's late partner.