Remembering Roger Ebert: Film Journalists Offer Their Reflections

Colleagues weigh in with thoughts and memories of the influential critic.

by | April 5, 2013 | Comments

News of Roger Ebert’s passing rippled through the community of film critics rapidly yesterday, and before the day was over, many memorial articles and essays had been published. We reached out to several of Ebert’s esteemed colleagues and collected their thoughtful tributes to celebrate his career and to illustrate precisely how influential he was.

“I can’t think about him as anything other than ‘Roger,’ even though I knew him just better than slightly, through the occasional e-mail exchange or seeing each other at film festivals. He’d be jammed into a row with the rest of the pale ghosts, all of us wielding pens and notebooks and attitudes. With Roger, the attitude was simple. He seemed to sit down in front of a screen with a blank canvas of expectation, as if saying to the filmmakers, ‘Show me.’ If the movie did, and it convinced him, and he was convinced of the rightness of what he was being shown, he would spread the word.”

Ty Burr, Boston Globe — Read his article here

“It is impossible to quantify the influence that Roger Ebert has had on anyone who cares even remotely about movies and movie criticism. But why limit it to such a narrow range of interest? Inside or outside the often insular, self-protective ranks of film critics, I can think of no writer who has commanded as wide a readership, or been more deeply invested in fostering a dialogue with that readership — a dialogue that overflowed freely into matters of art, science, religion, morality and politics. There was nothing Ebert couldn’t write about, just as there was seemingly no medium through which his work could not be transmitted.”

Justin Chang, Variety — Read his article here

“In 2010, I got to sit next to Ebert and his sunbeam of a wife, Chaz. We were seatmates at a Sundance Film Festival movie screening. We’d met years earlier covering the Oscars in Los Angeles and exchanged a couple of e-mails. While we waited for the lights to go down, a stream of old friends stopped by to say hello. New York film critic Harlan Jacobson paid his respects; so did a director of the Telluride Film Festival whose name I didn’t catch. Ebert was fully engaged. His eyes sparkled at the jokes, his mind devouring everything people threw at him. He communicated with hand gestures of Italian expressiveness, tilts of the head, dazzling smiles, skeptical squints. He would have made a fine silent-film actor. He wanted to know what I’d seen that impressed me, and, with Chaz adding a little running
commentary, we had a lovely, easygoing conversation about our favorites. It was as unforced as any coffee-shop chat between two movie lovers. If I had been honest about what I’d seen at Sundance that impressed me most, I would have blurted, ‘You.'”

Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Roger Ebert is the reason I became a film critic. He taught me that reviews are more than just mere opinion pieces, but a form of creative writing unto themselves, and convinced me to pursue this professionally. He respected his readers and established an incredibly personal conversation with them over nearly half a century of criticism, revealing little pieces of himself with every review.”

Peter DeBruge, Variety — Read his article here

“Whether he knew it or not, Roger Ebert was there for me at several key moments in my life. He inspired me by living the life he led and by facing illness and mortality with dignity and grace. I’m going to miss him, and so will everybody else who loves movies and enjoys engaging in the cultural conversation about them.”

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap — Read his article here

“I’m tempted to say that if Roger had never written a word, he’d be known for bringing people together. But the writing was what made Roger Roger. He wasn’t just generous with those close to him. He told everyone a lot about himself — sometimes, I think, more than he knew — in the words he published: his reviews, his op-ed pieces, his interviews, his blog, his memoir — even his tweets.”

Jim Emerson, Chicago Sun-Times — Read his article here

“It would be all too easy to position Roger’s passing as some sort of literal manifestation of the much-discussed ‘death’ of film criticism, but no one would object to that idea more than Roger himself, who believed passionately in criticism and was, even in his final days, taking measures to ensure the future of his and its army of regular contributors and ‘far-flung correspondents.’ As long as there are movies, and people who feel passionate enough to write about them, and places for them to do so, then Roger’s spirit will continue to flourish.”

Scott Foundas, Variety — Read his article here

“Roger Ebert outranked and outclassed all other movie critics. But he was always just Roger to the rest of us, as he was to his readers and TV viewers. He never tried to pull rank or bully others towards his point of view. If you cared about movies as much as he did, then he was always happy to discuss them with you. He wrote with enviable clarity and grace. Even when you disagreed with his opinions, you couldn’t help but admire how well he expressed them. Losing him feels like losing the best friend the movies ever had.”

Peter Howell, Toronto Star — Read his article here

“As a critic, what characterized Ebert above all was his accessibility. ‘A movie is not what it is about, but about how it is about it,’ he would write. That ‘law,’ repeated throughout his career, is the most useful credo for film-watching ever devised. What matters isn’t subject, he argued, but approach. The Farrelly brothers were just as capable of making a masterpiece as Ingmar Bergman. There’s a generosity and open-mindedness in that attitude that extends to fields beyond movies.”

Ben Kenigsberg, Time Out Chicago — Read his article here

“He loved movies. (His last written words: ‘I’ll see you at the movies.’) And he loved talking about them?in newspapers at first, on TV, and then, in his glorious and productive final years, on the Internet. I felt a not uncinematic frisson when, reading through his writing for Slate, I landed on his sign-off from the 2001 Movie Club: ‘I am departing at dawn,’ he wrote, ‘for a place where it will be hard to get online, but not, I hope, impossible and will try to check in again later.'”

Dan Kois, Slate — Read his article here

“But what I’ll remember most and love best about Roger Ebert was his playful side, and an infectious enthusiasm that was astonishingly alive after decades in a business in which it would have been easy ? and safe ? to be cynical… I’ll miss Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer prize-winning film critic. I’ll miss Roger, my friend, so much more.”

Christy Lemire, Slate — Read her article here

“He was the first movie critic most of us ever heard of, the Critic Next Door/Everyman with Everyman’s Tastes who shared a TV set with the seemingly snobbier Gene Siskel in the Golden Age of Film Reviewing. Roger Ebert turned his Chicago Sun-Times platform into a bully pulpit, arguing for better movies, better subtitling, better Oscar shows, and later in life, a better America and more civil debate.”

Roger Moore, Movie Nation — Read his article here

“There’s no way to say it without sounding slightly treacly, but Roger was pure. He wrote without guile, praised without hesitation and denounced without malice or scorn. It’s easier to remember him in praising mode, since he did so much of it — how he sustained his joyous delight remains a wonder of the movie world — but he could hurl thunderbolts too, and what he said or wrote was grounded in a lifetime of scholarship.”

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal — Read his article here

“Others have written, and will continue to write, about Ebert’s extraordinary longevity and productivity as a critic, about his singular role in shepherding the tastes of American moviegoers, about his courage in the face of illness, about his importance to the city of Chicago. But what has always struck me about Ebert is the way he approached criticism not as a theorist but as an enthusiast. The movies he loved, he truly loved. And the movies he hated, he truly hated.”

Christopher Orr, The Atlantic — Read his article here

“Roger Ebert had a passion for the movies that was contagious — you’d read his reviews, or his essays on the classic films, and want to run out and see them again — or discover them for the first time, thanks to Roger. Never pretentious, always razor-sharp and insightful and often furiously funny, he wrote with clarity and grace. A man of generous spirit and tireless energy, he was the best kind of film critic: you always learned something reading him, and never felt excluded from the conversation. In fact, just the opposite: he invited you to engage — in his writing, and in the films he was writing about.”

Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer — Read his article here

“A lot of critics today blame Siskel and Ebert for ‘dumbing down’ criticism and turning it into a matter of star ratings and whatnot. They’re wrong. S&E turned film criticism into a populist art form. They reached people who didn’t read Pauline Kael or Film Comment and made them consider movies as more than just a way to kill two hours. They were so entertaining to watch. I probably would have never chosen this career if it wasn’t for them. And Ebert’s reviews were a must-read, week in and week out. The man was a workhorse, yet it was rare to come across a hastily-written review. The first time I met him, I was completely starstruck, and he couldn’t have been nicer and friendlier. He truly was one of a kind, and he felt like family.”

Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald — Read his article here

“The only thing better than seeing movies with Roger in the screening room on Lake Street in Chicago was talking about movies with Roger in the studio on State Street in Chicago. Years into the job, I’d be sitting there, wondering when someone was going to tap me on the shoulder and tell me to get the hell off the set. To this day, I shake my head in wonder when I look back at all the time I spent with such a great and wonderful presence.”

Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times — Read his article here

“I feel this loss in my heart, not only as a fan and one of the many inspired writers, but as a colleague: In my earliest days on the beat, as a cub critic in Chicago, I made my way to the Lake Street Screening Room, where Ebert could be found in his favorite seat in the back row, left aisle. He loved to chat with anyone; I sometimes had to pinch myself. We talked about American Psycho, Road to Perdition, the varying quality of the pizzeria downstairs. Far from being all-encompassing, his film love was a conduit to a greater engagement with the world. I had no better role model.”

Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York — Read his article here

“Roger didn’t just see movies, he inhaled them. And even that wasn’t enough. He had to take each one on, in the ring of his criticism. Roger didn’t just write about movies. He couldn’t shut up about them. On the snowy streets at Sundance, where Roger was always experimenting with one of his new digital cameras, he’d still take the chance to tell me Blue Velvet was nowhere near as good as I thought it was. You could run into Roger anywhere and he’d start right in: ‘Did you see . . .?'”

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone — Read his article here

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