Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Roger Knows Best

Roger Ebert is getting better. Having battled cancer for several years, the longtime Chicago Sun-Times movie critic remains hospitalized after undergoing emergency surgery on his salivary gland.

As if anyone needed more proof that I am a sadly hopeless movie geek, I will admit before the world that, yes, I'm something of an actual Roger Ebert fan. So much so, in fact, that I actually searched out and read an exhaustive profile on Ebert by Carol Felsenthal in Chicago magazine:

And it just made me like him more:

"Remarkably, working in journalism and Hollywood -- two businesses not known for their generosity of spirit -- Ebert has attained this success for the most part without making enemies. Although some people do question the quality of his reviews, it is hard for a diligent reporter to turn up anyone who has a bad word to say about him personally, even in private. Rather, acquaintances cite his loyalty, his sweetness, his benevolence -- and, of course, his vast store of knowledge and enthusiasm about movies and myriad other subjects."

The thing is, I can actually attest to the guy's accessibility, patience and friendliness. When I was a pasty-skinned film geek of a mere 11 or 12 (as opposed to, say, the pasty-skinned film geek of advanced age I am today), I was such an avid fan of PBS' "Siskel & Ebert," that I phoned Ebert at his home (one doubts he is still listed in the book). He answered and I proceeded to rattle on about how much I liked the TV show and how much I enjoyed his reviews. He thanked me, asked what my favorite movies were and even promised to hit a home run for me during the following day's double header at Wrigley Field (OK, I'm lying about that last part).

But you get the idea. He was a pretty nice guy. Here he is, in fact, dutifully signing books for some maximum-security prison inmates.

Ironically, back when the combo was Siskel & Ebert, I typically agreed more with the reviews of Ebert's longtime nemesis, Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel (worth checking out in case you haven't seen it already: some promo outtakes with Siskel and Ebert at each other's respective throats). Nowadays, however, I appreciate Ebert's reviews more for their clever writing (although he still gives away too much of a movie's plot) and his general willingness to accept a film on its own terms.

What I like most about Ebert's viewpoint these days is his approach: art is innocent until proven guilty. Maybe he is too forgiving as a result (he gave Garfield: The Movie a thumbs-up, after all), but there is something genuinely appealing about his unabashed love for the magic that occurs on a big screen in a darkened movie theater (and I don't mean in a nasty Pee Wee Herman or Alanis Morissette way). In short, Ebert's enthusiasm reminds me of a comment that Francis Ford Coppola made in 1982 amid the critical lashing he took (unfairly, incidentally) for One from the Heart.

"Why don't we all cheer the film makers on?" Coppola asked rhetorically. "And when they make mistakes, what is it a shooting gallery for? What the hell are we here for, to be your enemies?"

Get well, Roger.


At 8:08 AM, Anonymous flamewhore said...

Ah, life before cable television. I too loved that PBS show, Ebert has a Captain Kangaroo quality to him. I am sorry to hear that he is in the hospital.

At 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

did i say it was a spelling error? chill.

At 3:59 PM, Anonymous turtle said...

Best wishes to the Big Guy - he was a formative part of my growing up as well. His taste has always been a bit schizophenic, though. I mean how does one praise a movie like Last House on the Left (in which a woman is forced to pee herself at knife point before being disemboweled on camera) for it's "realism" and then accuse the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (the original 1974 version with practically no visible blood) of being tasteless?

On the other hand, he did defend a lot of modern horror films against the nototiously squeamish Gene Siskel. One particularly fiesty argument I remember was over the original tame-by-today's-standards Fright Night. Yep, Gene found those burning animatronic giant bats and handful of stakes through the heart just way too intense!

At 7:35 AM, Blogger LiteraryTech said...

I think it is always best to take care when signing books for dangerous criminals. I hope he gets better, 'cause I hear some of those criminals might like to buy another book.

At 11:23 PM, Blogger Larry Mondello said...

Well done, Chase.
There are only two movie critics I pay any attention to: Roger and a guy whose name I won't mention, but HE knows who he is.


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