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Saturday, April 06, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Passing of Roger Ebert

As I'm sure you've heard by now, renowned film critic Roger Ebert passed away two days ago.  I was at work when the news broke, and I was surprised at how torn up I was about it.  Roger Ebert really was my gateway into being the movie geek I was today.

Most of my family are churchgoers, but I was never really into it.  So, when my teen years came, and I was old enough to be left home on my own, I'd stay home on Sunday mornings and watch Siskel and Ebert.  And I tell you, Siskel and Ebert was an eye-opening show.  When all you've got for movies is the 2-dozen or so blockbusters down at the local convenience store, Siskel and Ebert was there to show me that there is so much more out there in the world for movies.

And this was in the early 1990s, too, which was a golden era to be getting into movies.  We had the rise of the independents in that era, with folks like Quentin Tarintino, Robert Rodreiguiz, and Kevin Smith launching their careers.  And that in general started bringing more attention to art house fare, and giving more attention to foreign films.

Siskel and Ebert was where I was first exposed to the works of Kevin Smith.  On the show, they used to end it with the "Video Pick of the Week," where they'd highlight a really good movie that had just been released on video.  But, with Laserdisc being the format of choice for cinephiles at the time, they also started doing a "Laserdisc Pick of the Month."  One Sunday morning, their Laserdisc Pick of the Month was the special edition Laserdisc of Clerks.  And, from the Laserdisc, they showed the original ending of Clerks, and then Siskel and Ebert had a quick debate as to whether Smith was right to cut it or not. 

It was also where I was first exposed to the films of Hayao Miyazaki.  My Neighbor Totoro was dubbed and released by legendary film studio Troma Studios in 1992, and I remember seeing it reviewed on Siskel and Ebert, and Ebert gave an incredibly positive review to it.  I'm pretty sure he put it on his "10 Best" list for 1992.  I remember watching that episode, and they showed the clip of Totoro and Satsuki hanging out at the bus stop, and then the Catbus pulls up, and I thought to myself, "This film looks freaky as fuck."  And now, Miyazaki is one of my favourite filmmakers. 

And also, Quentin Tarantino.  I remember, when Tarantino only had four films to his name (Pulp Fiction, Resevoir Dogs, and the Tarantino-scripted-only True Romance and Natural Born Killers), they already did a retrospective on Tarintino's career and how Tarintino was going to revolutionize filmmaking.  I remember Ebert expressing in amazement that there were already websites dedictated to Tarintino.  This would have been early 1995.

And that leads into another bit of Ebert's legacy.  As many in the online film crticism community are pointing out, Ebert was an early adopter of the Internet, and was quick to embrace online film critics as his brethren and not wannabes.  I remember, in 1997 or so, I saw Ebert on a talk show, and he was asked if he had any advice for anyone who wanted to be a film critic.  And Ebert said, "My advice to anyone who wants to be a film critic is the same advice to anyone who wants to be a writer:  never stop writing.  And with the Internet now, it's become so easy to publish your work and have it reach a wide audience."  I took those words to heart, and I started writing movie reviews on my website not longer after.  Probably why I still find the time to sit and jot down a few thoughts whenever I come back from the city, because watching a movie is still the main reason why I venture into Edmonton.

The Internet is where Ebert flourished in his later years.  He'd been battling cancer, and it literally robbed him of his voice about 10 years ago.  So he started blogging more.  I loved his blog.  He was the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize, and his blog was always such a treat to read.  Which is why his death was so heartbreaking.  The day before he died, he wrote his final blog entry, in which he announced that his cancer had come back, and he would be taking a "leave of presence" to battle it.  He wasn't going to give up, just slow down a bit.  Write less reviews, but still blogging, and he made mention of turning to Kickstarter to fund his TV show and get it back on the air, which really caught my eye.

And that's the most inspiring thing about Roger Ebert.  Up until the end, he never gave up, he never quit.  He had his passions, like movies and writing, and nothing stood in between himself and his passions.  He just kept going.

So thank you, Roger Ebert.  My love of movies, my love of writing, all inspired by you.  Thank you.

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