Not to be insensitive, but sometimes celebrity deaths don’t really matter that much to me. People whose careers had long since perished are now just people- and people I didn’t even know at that. However, when a celebrity dies who consistently contributes to your life, it’s an utter tragedy.
Roger Ebert, rest his soul, has been a lot of things to a lot of people. He’s a hero to some, a villain to others, but he is absolutely and irrevocably the most respected and prolific film critic to have ever graced this earth.
Film critics are in a complicated position in the film politics game- they owe film-going audiences an honest opinion of film quality, but they also owe the industry some level of exposure and reverence. If I were in a more cynical mood, I’d elaborate on the sketchy dealings between filmmakers and critics, but today I’ll maintain a wholesome outlook. And in either mental state I’d say Ebert towed this line with less controversy than many of his peers.
As if being a righteous film critic was enough, the guy was a beast. If you don’t know anything about his story, look him up or read his memoir. Not only did he successfully maintain a career for 46 years, he battled thyroid and salivary gland cancer and for a while there, he seemed to have won. He has been unable to speak or eat for seven years now but has continued to contribute passionately until his last moments.
As I said before, this loss feels personal. Ebert contributed directly to my life for years. I read his reviews religiously and have made a game out of comparing my take on films to his. Nothing thrills me more than when our reviews line up. This is not to say the man wasn’t wrong sometimes (who gives Blue Velvet one star?!). But again, this is the cross one bears as a film critic- you’ll never satisfy 100% of your audience 100% of the time. It takes guts, brains, and balls to commit to that job. I should know, considering the caution with which I’ve tiptoed around the film critic career, fearing its demise in the internet age and doubting my ability to always make the right calls. What I guess I’m saying is, he was a mentor and an inspiration. He guided me towards hundreds of brilliant films and provided me an essential component of my education.
So here’s to you, Roger Ebert. You were a gentleman and a scholar, one hell of a hard worker, a brilliant writer and analyst, and an inspiration to generations of film lovers around the globe. You will be sorely missed but never forgotten.