Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert and Life Itself

After many weeks in 2013 without a new Roger Ebert film review, April 3 brought relief when the Pulitzer Prize winning film critic announced a "leave of presence" to recover from another cancer.

His treatment would, he wrote, afford him time to focus on only the movies he wanted to see.

So today's afternoon news that Ebert died in Chicago took the wind out of me.

Tonight, reading his wife's quotes in the Chicago Sun-Times, Ebert's employer of 46 years, it seems the beloved critic was set to enter home hospice care (a sign he was closer to the end than the optimistic "leave of presence" notice led me to believe).

It's just sad either way.

Reading public comments about Ebert this afternoon, it's clear my stories and memories of the man are not unique. What a life he led!

Clicking on Facebook's "Like" feature took on a different meaning for many selecting "thumbs up" in tribute to Roger.

Many millions got to know Ebert as I did via PBS syndication of his review programs with Gene Siskel. Their review shows were among the few "adult" broadcasts of the late 1970s that my parents let me watch as a preschooler -- their review of the original "Halloween" movie with Jamie Lee Curtis remains seared in my brain (equally for the critique and the scary scene that led to my bedroom closets being open until teen years), as is SNL "Weekend Update" reporter Dennis Miller's mid-1980s announcement that Siskel & Ebert officially got renamed "the fat guy and the other one" (not respectively).

Ebert also made big brown glasses "cool" when my eyesight required lenses (about 1979). Reviews of "Tootsie" and "Thelma and Louise" stand out, as did the credits for their show, my early introduction to urban Chicago.

By my 1991 arrival at Minnesota State University at Mankato, I had more than a decade of Ebert critiques on the brain, and his style inspired not only a "great movies to rent" column for the MSU Reporter, but also my entry in to the mass communications program. My MSU friend Paul Rignell and I shared many Ebert-inspired chats (and spirited debates) as part of the campus film selection committee.

When my first girlfriend asked for Christmas gift suggestions, Ebert's 1993 review compilation was my No. 1 choice, and the more I read his columns (to complement the broadcast versions), the more inspiring the journalism track became (my home library now includes six Ebert review books and his excellent, inspiring autobiography "Life Itself," which I could not put down in early 2012 -- I cannot wait for a lucky filmmaker to turn this autobiography into a silver screen classic).

Ebert's website and blog served as inspiration for this Olympic blog (and occasional film blog) as well.

I love that he wrote captions for The New Yorker cartoon caption contest, entering many times before finally winning (reminiscent of the Olympic motto on the importance of taking part).

And speaking of the Olympics, Ebert also offered commentary of several Olympic moments including Beijing's and London's opening ceremonies. His notes on his Chicago's loss of the 2016 Olympic bid turned attention to other pressing matters for the city to tackle. He reviewed almost every Olympic-related film from "Olympia" to "Chariots of Fire" and "Cool Runnings" with panache.

And he could cook! This New York Times report about Ebert, by Atlanta-based food writer Kim Severson, is one I clipped and placed in the pages of "Life Itself" for future reference.

I am going to miss Roger Ebert.

Photos via the Chicago Sun-Times

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