Thursday, April 04, 2013

RIP: Roger Ebert

When I was in community college all of the film geeks went to Mike's house on Sunday night where his mom would fix dinner and we'd all watch the PBS show SNEAK PREVIEWS with Siskel & Ebert which included the ever-popular Dog Of The Week film. As a film geek I had read critics like Kael, Simon, and Canby - but reading their reviews wasn't the same as watching SNEAK PREVIEWS. Siskel and Ebert were there on the screen, arguing about movies the way my friends and I always argued at that back table at Dennys after seeing some movie. They could see the same movie from two different perspectives and each argue their points using scenes, lines, performances, shots, and anything else from the movie. You'd learn more about movies from the films they disagreed about - because they would each make good points. If Siskel liked a film that you liked and Ebert hated it, you would learn *why* Ebert disliked the film. You may not agree with him, but you understood his points. Two guys who were passionate about movies - as our little group of film geeks were. They debated films just as we did... but had seen many more films and could use many more examples than we could. Dinner at Mike's house every Sunday night was an important part of my film education.

Later, when I was in Los Angeles writing scripts, Ebert was on Compuserve's Showbiz Forum and we often debated films online. Those were the early days when the internet was green writing on a black screen, and Ebert would talk movies with anyone with a dial up modem. There was a group of regulars who were kind of like the film geek's at Mike's house on Sundays. We'd argue films at however much a minute Compuserve charged us. What was cool about Ebert is that, despite being one of the most famous film critics in the world, he treated everyone and everyone's opinion with respect. Though he was completely wrong about DIE HARD. I was thrilled when an online conversation we had about Best Screenplay Oscar Nominees became part of his 1997 If We Picked The Winners show... and he talked about me on his TV show! Many of the discussions on the Showbiz Forum ended up in Roger's Movie Answer Man columns... and later the books. It was cool when some smart-ass remark of mine started an online conversation that ended up in a book at the Book Star in Studio City. Many of the other forum members had dinner with Roger and his wife - if you were going to be in Chicago, he'd find the time to meet you. Roger came to Los Angeles every year for the Oscars (he hosted the red carpet show on the local ABC station when the red carpet show was more about the nominees than the celebrities and what they were wearing) and I probably could have met him... but my "I'm not worthy" gene kicked in, even though we "knew each other" from online. So, I never met him... though many of my online friends did. I don't know whether Andy Ihnatko was a journalist before the Showbiz Forum or not, but he became a columnist for the Sun-Times. What's interesting to me are how many members of that old forum are working writers, now.

I was sad when Siskel passed away - half of a great team who had turned movies (and art films and indie films) into something that stupid guys from Concord could discuss. One of the great things about their show were the films I probably would never have heard of without them. We all know about the big studio releases, but would I have ever seen some art house film if they had not brought it to my attention? Well, maybe I might have - but I think in those early days of home video they brought many great little films to the attention of the average viewer. Part of the success of movies like SEX LIES AND VIDEOTAPE (aside from that title) was due to Siskel and Ebert recommending them on national TV. Over the years, I would favor Siskel or favor Ebert. It was always changing. Sometimes I though Ebert was a complete idiot... and sometimes I though Siskel was. But without their show, would we be *thinking* about film? Or just watch movies passively?

I followed Roger's blog - never thought a rice cooker would make me cry, read his reviews and disagreed with many... but he always explained your reasons. So I understood why he liked or disliked some film. But even with the blog, he opened it up to all of the other film geeks out there. I loved how he created a place for film fans in far off lands to talk about movies as "correspondents". He allowed us to see the world through different eyes... and allowed us to see Hollywood through different eyes.

*Yesterday* he posted a blog entry celebrating 46 years as a film critic, and saying that he was going to slow down a little and take a "Leave Of Presence". Still be around, but many not post as much. Last year he posted reviews for *306* movies plus did blog posts plus posted material on Facebook and Twitter. In that blog entry he mentioned that they had found cancer in his leg, but the post was so upbeat about his future plans that I wasn't sad. Roger was a fighter, and an innovator and had a grand plan for his website's future and the future of the TV show. So I was shocked when I heard that he had passed away... but, like Mad Max, he will always live on in our memories... and live on in all of the people he touched and all of the films he championed that didn't get pushed aside by those big studio blockbusters. The world is a better place because he was here... and movies are better because he and Gene would tear them apart every week.

I'm sure he and Gene are up there discussing movies again...

I know that I will miss him.

- Bill

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