Roger Ebert, the greatest movie critic of our times, passed away yesterday, April 4, 2013. He died of cancer at 70, just days after announcing his retirement from the movie review business. I have much to say on his legacy, so here goes..
What made Roger Ebert so great? Was that being his long time dedication since 1967, to reviewing movies? Or perhaps his fuzzy personality and witty descript? Or perhaps his open-mindedness to see nearly every big-screen movie no matter how mundane, stupid, or childish? Or perhaps his willingness to speak his own mind without fear on subjects including: video games (not art?), and politics (progressive liberal), or the act of creative writing..
“There is no such thing as waiting for inspiration……the Muse visits during the process of creation, not before.”
Overall, I think Ebert’s success is due from his ability to make each review personal. He does not consider what the current mob is saying or by identifying with the current Emmy snobbery . You read his reviews, and he makes his points by also reminding us of who he is. Sometimes, that could be a grumpy old man not quite connecting with a film’s target audience. My favorite example, being his review of Kick-Ass (2010):
“Will I seem hopelessly square if I find “Kick-Ass” morally reprehensible and will I appear to have missed the point? Let’s say you’re a big fan of the original comic book, and you think the movie does it justice. You know what? You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in.”
Ebert goes on in detail about why Kick-Ass reminded him of real life violence involving inner-city kids and its gratuitous shameless display of bloodletting (he is also not big on horror). I strongly disagree with his review on Kick-Ass, being that it’s just escapist fantasy and fun. However, I appreciated his understanding and willingness in the attempt to make a connection while sharing his personal thoughts on why the movie was bothering, affecting his review.
Then, there are reviews done that connected well with myself on the understanding of my own desires in new movies. Often, that calls for something different, creative and interesting. Also, we both seem to love intelligently written science fiction.
My recent memory and strong example is Ebert’s recent review on Cloud Atlas. This is a wonderful film, but not understood by many because of its odd and exhilarating editing style, switching often between six linked stories. Ebert said this in his review of Cloud Atlas (2012):
Even as I was watching “Cloud Atlas” the first time, I knew I would need to see it again. Now that I’ve seen it the second time, I know I’d like to see it a third time — but I no longer believe repeated viewings will solve anything. To borrow Churchill’s description of Russia, “it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” It fascinates in the moment. It’s getting from one moment to the next that is tricky.”
He goes on to discuss its bold style, and how the film itself goes beyond the story to a work of art. His review felt like a journey, that needed repeating because there was so much for him to appreciate and understand. I rushed out to see Cloud Atlas for myself and fully understood what he said. I felt a kind of connection between our love for this movie. Also, I couldn’t push others to see this movie, and the Internet mobs were much divided in their opinions. I think Cloud Atlas was a movie for just myself, Roger Ebert, and others who keep an open mind and welcome daring, creative approaches in storytelling. We can still hate the result, but at least understand and welcome the good in putting the product out there.
I always appreciated his choice in a personal favorite of mine, Dark City, to be his chosen best movie for 1998, and Being John Malkovich the year after. Both are great movies, also daring approaches in creative storytelling. Yet both movies, I felt were widely ignored and dubbed too weird by the masses to give them the wider respect they deserved.
That being said, I looked up Ebert’s thoughts on another daring movie for its time. This odd movie, peddled as a space opera with laser-wielding wizards, handicapped designed robots, with a reluctant farmboy turned galactic hero. Here is what he said in his review of Star Wars, back in 1977:
“The movie relies on the strength of pure narrative, in the most basic storytelling form known to man, the Journey. All of the best tales we remember from our childhoods had to do with heroes setting out to travel down roads filled with danger, and hoping to find treasure or heroism at the journey’s end..”
See? Star Wars is not just about special effects and crazy battles in the usual epic struggle between good and evil. There is so much more, setting the first apart and special from the following sequels and prequels. It takes an open-mind soul to look deeper into a popular film for what it really is. Ebert does that well.
And often, Ebert likes to have fun in his reviews. He reminds us, that some movies are created to primarily entertain. If he is entertained, we are..or at least, could be entertained. For example, his review of Speed, starring Keanu Reeves (1994).
“Films like Speed belong to the genre I call Bruised Forearm Movies, because you’re always grabbing the arm of the person sitting next to you. Done wrong, they seem like tired replays of old chase cliches. Done well, they’re fun. Done as well as Speed, they generate a kind of manic exhilaration.”
Also, Roger Ebert displays wit even when the subject film does not. This is often refreshing; especially in this modern age of ridiculous explosion-laden, cleavage display, CGI fetishes disasterpieces Here’s what Ebert had to say in his hilarious review of Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen (2009):
“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.”
And, here is my favorite burn for Tom Green’s epic monstrosity, Freddy Got Fingered, a movie Ebert hated so much he gave it zero stars in his review (2001):
“This movie doesn’t scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn’t below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels.”
Rest in peace, Roger Ebert. That personal touch in your reviews will be remembered.
Also, thank you.