Thursday, April 4, 2013

For Roger (1942-2013)

At some point in the next few weeks, I'd like to put together an Ebert weekend of favorite movies of his for people who loved reading him and who got to know movies better through him. Below is something I wrote a few years ago when he first began to blog. All I can say is that he is the single most important inspiration and model I've ever had for how I write the way I write and the shape which this blog has taken. In an era when movies are a slowly dying artform, Ebert put us back in touch with all the best things they had to offer. On a cosmic level, he was a Samuel Johnson for our time and its artform. On a personal level, he felt like as much a friend to me as any person I'd ever spoken to. 

From 2011:

It amazes me how often we hear this same story: so many people of our generation didn’t come to reading Roger Ebert through developing a passion for movies. They developed a passion for movies through reading Roger Ebert. There was a period in the early-to-mid-90’s when every middle-class household seemed to have an Ebert movie guide. Soon thereafter, every one of his movie reviews and articles got posted on CompuServe, and soon after that he started his own website. For all those decades when Ebert was so omnipresent, it has been fashionable to rag on him for being too generous to mediocre movies and dumbing down criticism with the TV show "Siskel and Ebert" (would that most of today's TV critics could discuss movies on their level...). But what they (at times ‘we’) all missed was that Ebert’s zealous passion for all aspects of his job was clearly just a facet of his larger zeal for life: for food and drink (obviously), for books, for art, for women (and apparently they loved him right back..), for friends, for family, and anything else that enriched. But it was not until Ebert was so debilitated that he found a metier through which we could perceive his life for everything it is. 
And with his Pulitzer for Criticism now thirty-five years in the past, Ebert may have only reached the peak of his influence in the past year. Horribly disfigured by thyroid cancer and left without the ability to eat, drink or speak, Ebert has taken to the age of blogging and twitter with a naturalness stunning for anyone in their late 60’s. But there’s simply no adjective to describe the stunning ease with which a person in his condition took to an entirely new technology. Perhaps he understands things about how to use the internet that younger, more fit people never could. Roger Ebert’s blog is simply like nothing else on the internet. Like clockwork, a fully formed essay arrives every week on topics ranging from loneliness to alcoholism to politics to illness. Ebert delves into the most personal crevasses of his experience, and perhaps for the first time in my experience of the blogosphere, the result is wisdom instead of TMI. Self revelation rarely results in deeper appreciation, but Ebert has a humanity that few people are capable of allowing themselves, and through his emotional generosity he’s created a community of ‘the neglected.’ The comments section is filled with posts from all sorts of people who for the first time in their lives feel confident that there is a place where they can share the most personal parts of their lives, openly and without judgement or prejudice. Go to any Ebert blogpost and you find hundreds of extraordinarily well-written essays in of themselves which seem to be written by a confluence of hundreds of articulate, lonely teenagers looking to find a place where people like them belong, unwell people who are desperate to remember how they functioned in their illness’s remission, unhappy people who never got the chance they should have for life to hear their voices. These are all people who thought the world was divided into those who are broken and those who are not, but through each other they all seem to have realize that there is no such division....Or at least there should never be..
It is through Ebert’s example that so many of them found the courage to tell stories of their own: lives torn apart by tragedy, by mental illness, by the unfairness of circumstance. And yet through Roger Ebert each of them has discovered that they have a story to tell and a public who will listen. Only a man of very deep good will could have created something so consoling, so unique and so unforseen that (I don’t use this word lightly) it has enriched the lives of so many whose lives desperately needed enrichment. Had Roger Ebert died on the operating table, life would have been far the poorer for what all these people would have lost. 

Roger Ebert Weekend (We can watch North for five minutes...then we'll get sick of it...):

With selections from The Dekalog for whenever there's a free few minutes...

Friday (weird favorites):

5. Eve's Bayou
7: Aguirre: The Wrath of God
9. Prometheus
11. Dark City

Saturday (unknowns he championed):

9: Gates of Heaven
11. Who's That Knocking At My Door
1. 28 Up

3: Hoop Dreams

6. House of Games
8. Grave of the Fireflies
11. Fargo

Sunday (classics):

9. The Third Man
11. Bonnie and Clyde
1. Do The Right Thing
3. La Dolce Vita
6. Taxi Driver
8. Citizen Kane
10. Casablanca

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