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Remembering Roger Ebert

Article Header Roger Ebert Death

Whether you agreed with his opinion or not, Roger Ebert was the number one voice everyone respected when it came to movie criticism. His words inspired many and his long running syndicated television show entertained even more. Even Hollywood waited in anticipation to see if their films would receive Roger’s trademarked “Thumbs Up,” because if they didn’t it was almost certain that movie would be box office flop.

On April 4th, 2013, Roger Ebert passed away after years of battling cancer. And even though many complications with surgeries left him unable to speak, he never lost his voice.  He adapted to all means of media.  Whether still writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, broadcasting his syndicated show with hosts Gene Siskel or Richard Roper, publishing novels, running his personal website, or battling criticism on Twitter, Roger Ebert became the most influential movie critic of all time over his career that spanned nearly five decades. Roger not only became the first movie critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1975, but he was also the first to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005.

In 1975 Roger hosted his first televised movie review show with long time friend and rival, Gene Siskel. Here is one of his first shows. You can tell the nervousness between the two as they review One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

As a kid, I had no idea what movie reviews were. I had no idea what the Chicago Sun-Times or the Tribune even was. I thought the Cleveland Plain Dealer was the only newspaper that existed. The only thing I knew was Roger and Gene were passionate about movies and loved to talk about them. In reality that’s not that far of a stretch. What made Siskel and Ebert’s long time television series work was because they often had a difference of opinion and had no qualms about going at it with each other in front of a camera.

Here is an amazing 8 minutes of candid footage that is no holds barred brotherly love between Gene and Roger as the F-Bombs fly and Gene makes fun of Roger’s ordering skills at McDonalds. If this is how they acted while just doing a promo, I’d love to see the edited footage from the actual show.

Here Gene and Roger argue about The Silence of the Lambs. Gene hated it while Roger thought the relationship between Jodi Foster and Anthony Hopkins was brilliant. Listening to Gene talk horribly about a movie that swept the Oscars that year is proof that even the best get it wrong sometimes.

Roger Ebert, at his essence, was a celebration of cinema. His reviews were like magic, and they almost always elevated my appreciation for whatever he was reviewing. He was a staunch guardian, a gatekeeper, of true cinema.

- Joe Marino – Geekenstein Movie  Reviewer

As a movie lover, the real joy watching Siskel and Ebert was when they both really loved a film or franchise. Not only did they allow themselves to talk like kids discovering cinema for the first time, but because of their extensive film knowledge, they were able to teach even experts a thing or two. Here Roger and Gene devote an entire episode to not only reviewing Return of the Jedi, but how important the Star Wars trilogy is to cinema history.

…it was his intense love for movies that was always strikingly apparent. Any film reviewer, whether they use video or the written word as their chosen medium, owes Mr. Ebert a debt of gratitude.

- Chris Stuckmann – YouTube Film Reviewer

Even after his death, Roger Ebert will always be a man of integrity. He was very vocal with his opinions, but would admit to being wrong. He often went back and changed the star ratings he gave reviews as he grew and matured in his career. One opinion that was the rage of the Internet was when Roger wrote on his blog: “Video Games Can Never be Art.” Video game fanboys, journalists, developers and creators were appalled by the notion that Roger Ebert attacked a the very medium they are passionate about with little to no experience. The irony in this thinking could be that the video game Postal isn’t art, but the horrible movie based on the game is? Personally, I think Mr. Ebert is still thinking that modern games are simple games like Pong or Bejeweled instead of allowing the players to immerse themselves in a universe amazingly similar to ones found in television, cinema and books. But this is an example of Roger rethinking his stance. In his Sun-Times blog, he doesn’t exactly recant his opinion, because let’s face it – it is his opinion, but rather apologized for making it public.

 I was a fool for mentioning video games in the first place. I would never express an opinion on a movie I hadn’t seen. Yet I declared as an axiom that video games can never be Art. I still believe this, but I should never have said so. Some opinions are best kept to yourself.

Chicago Sun-Times: Roger Ebert’s Journal – “Okay, kids, play on my lawn”  July 1, 2010

It’s hard to know exactly what Roger’s experience is with video games, because he chose cinema to be his main focus, but he isn’t completely naive on the subject matter. He admits to playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all the time. Every year, Siskel & Ebert had a holiday buyer’s guide special. In the video below, Gene and Roger talk about Tecmo Bowl, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Nintendo Entertainment Syetem, Super NES, and Super Tennis. At the end of the video the two review The Wizard starring Fred Savage from The Wonder Years.

When Gene Siskel passed away in 1999, Roger was devastated. He didn’t just lose his partner, he lost his friend. He eventually got Richard Roeper as the new co-host to the movie review show. Now named Ebert & Roeper, Roger and Richard still debated about which films were great and which films were horrible, but to me it wasn’t the same. Roger started to begin his battle with health problems which left him absent many times. This left Richard to have guest hosts for weeks while Roger recovered.

Here is Roger and Richard reviewing Batman Begins. You can clearly see Roger’s health deteriorating, but that didn’t stop him from doing what he loved. To this day I still check out Richard Roeper’s reviews on YouTube, but to me Siskel & Ebert will always be near and dear to my heart.

Eventually Roger would be come so ill in health that he wouldn’t be able to return to the show. On March 24, 2010, Disney announced that At the Movies was being canceled due to low ratings thus ending its 24 seasons of national syndication on August 14, 2010. The final episode included reviews of Eat Pray LoveScott Pilgrim vs. the World, and The Expendables.

Here are the final hosts Michael Phillips and A. O. Scott reviewing Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I watched this show as it was scheduled weekly on my DVR due to it being on at the most remote times of the day. No wonder it had bad ratings because you could never find it on. It really shows the power the Ebert had with his audience. They accepted Richard Roeper as a substitute for Siskel because they still had Roger. Now with Roger being gone from the show and movie reviews being able to be instantly read or watched on the Internet, why would people wait each week to see a Gene & Roger-less show. Not to discredit Michael and A. O., but it just wasn’t the same. At the Movies wasn’t even allowed to used the trademarked “Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down” anymore. It was replaced by “See It/Skip It/Rent It.” Watching the final show was ungodly bittersweet as I had truly witness the end of a legacy.

Eventually Roger became a shell of the man he once was… but only in body, not in mind and spirit. He still was passionate about writing about what he loved the most. In one of his final interviews with NBC’s Today Show, he bluntly spoke about honesty and how powerful social media allows his to have real conversation through Twitter, Facebook and his his blog. This is prove that when live puts major obstacles in your path, you have to learn to circumvent them.

Ebert described his critical approach to films as “relative, not absolute”; he reviewed a film for what he felt would be its prospective audience, yet always with at least some consideration as to its value as a whole.

- Wikipedia page of Roger Ebert

I wanted to add the above expert from the Roger Ebert Wikipedia page because I feel this is why I liked him as a movie critic. It is a style I try to use when I review both movies and video games. I’ve learned to talk to people as friends in my reviews and not only give an opinion of the movie I’m writing about, but also educate the reader through my personal experience and knowledge. I may not have a Roger Ebert vocabulary or style of writing, but I have his passion for movies and that’s the most important thing I feel needs to be expressed.

By Scott Stantis, Chicago Tribune

By Scott Stantis, Chicago Tribune

The passing of Roger Ebert marks the end of an era for movie criticism. Of course the show must go on and thousands of journalists, bloggers and video reviewers will attempt to take his place in print and website forms, but can you really replace a John Wayne or an Orsen Wells or a Marilyn Monroe… or a Roger Ebert. That answer is a solid no and that’s what makes those icons.

Rest in peace, Mr. Ebert and until the day I might have the opportunity to meet you in heaven, enjoy drinking your Coke and watching Citizen Kane for all eternity.

…The balcony is now closed.

Did Roger Ebert inspire you? Did you often disagree with his opinions? Let us know you thoughts in the comments below.

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Co-founder, Graphic Artist, Movie Reviewer, and official "Grey Bush" of Geekenstein. Love the films of Kevin Smith, Stanley Kubrick, and Quentin Tarantino. I love to Play Gears of War on Xbox 360 while my PS3 collects dust. I have an extensive knowledge of the most useless crap you'll never want to know about. Listen to our podcast where I ramble and swear a lot while talking about Honey Boo Boo and phallic symbols.

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  • Joe Marino

    GREAT article, Craig. Really gets to the heart of the man who inspired multiple generations to have a true love and appreciation for cinema.