Thursday, April 04, 2013

Roger Ebert, the movies and me

There are many men whose opinions I valued as a child. Beyond my father, though, it's hard to think of any guy I listened to more than Leonard Maltin, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. And the last held the highest rank in that trio.

I can't say for sure what was my first movie. I remember my parents taking me and my little sister to see "The Jungle Book" at a drive-in theater. I remember seeing "The Spy Who Loved Me" on network in prime time. Whatever it was, it started me down the road to countless other films, and as you know from reading this blog -- and just knowing me in general -- movies remain ... if not a passion, thanks to the time constraints of family, work and whatnot, then at least a strong interest. Past, present and future, I love them, and I don't see that changing.

Outside my dad, Roger Ebert may be the biggest reason for this. I remember religiously watching "Sneak Previews" while in grade school, then "At the Movies" after that. Like a lot of people, I couldn't wait to see what was on this week's slate, and how colorful the commentary would be. And when Roger and Gene really disagreed? Whoa, nellie. To say they carved out a unique place in pop culture is like saying Johnny Depp on occasion gets a little kooky with his roles. Sure, I inhaled Maltin's annual edition of movie capsules and ratings during the '80s; my sister and I often said, "Let's see what Len has to say about this." But there's no question that "Two thumbs up" remains the standard by which we judge movies.

Roger and I grew apart when I went to college -- ironically in Chicago -- and I eventually lumped his movie reviews in with many others. That's been even easier to do in recent years with Rotten Tomatoes and other aggregators. But even as I made the rounds with The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and other movie reviews, Ebert stayed in the mix -- never as shrill as Rex Reed, fawning as Peter Travers or stuffy as Anthony Lane. The sad premature death of Siskel in 1999 left Ebert as the standard -- all the more impressive after his health issues in the 2000s.

And now he's gone. The real everyman movie reviewer -- knowledgeable yet accessible -- has left us. Fitting that word spread like wildfire this afternoon on Facebook, which took the thumbs-up to whole other level. I don't know what Ebert thought of that, but I do know I'm going to dig out my copy of "I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie" and enjoy some of Roger's razor wit one more time.


At 3:20 PM, Anonymous slumus lordicus said...

There is always Shawn Edwards. Too soon?


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