It’s been a week since the death of Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert, and the eulogies and remembrances keep pouring in from all over the web. It was obvious for anyone who had followed American film criticism at any point in the past thirty years that Ebert was a commanding presence, but little could have prepared someone like me for the overwhelming amount of personal testimonies and loving anecdotes that have come to light over the past week. Most of them start from pretty much the same place I began my initial post, with an obligatory nod to his influence and the way he taught a whole generation or more of budding cinephiles that they should cherish their impulse to think critically about movies, and not be ashamed to find worth and meaning in popular cinema. But from there many of them move on to testify about how Ebert helped them as critics; either indirectly, through inspiring them to pursue writing careers in the first place, or, just as often, directly, for how he reached out to people with advice and feedback and the grace with which he handled and fostered criticism and disagreement.
Reading obituaries and eulogies from a variety of sources, you really get the sense that Ebert was a pater familias for the film critic community. In a telling discussion on the Cinephiliacs podcast, young critics Peter Labuza, Kenji Fujishima and Keith Ulich team up with the veteran Geoffrey Cheshire to discuss Ebert’s legacy, and they all tell a somewhat similar story of how they at one point thought they had “gotten past” him, a period in which their critical sensibilities sought elsewhere, but they all returned in later years, In some sense, Ebert seemed reinvigorated by conquering blogging and tweeting as tools of communicating his views, and he started to write insightful and moving pieces on non-movie related subjects, most notably his own illness and mortality, but also arts and politics,
Which brings me to my final thought after a week of reading and remembering Roger Ebert. Like so many others, I think I’d kind of started taking Ebert for granted. Precisely because he wrote so bravely about his physical limitations and struggles, he began to seem almost invincible, No one are, of course, and it made even less sense to think of an obviously weakened man in that way, but I think it had to do with he had made himself indispensable in his corner of the Internet and what remains of print media. In his final blog post, he seemed more at peace with that than most of his admirers who have shared their memories of him since his death, but even that he foreshadowed, with his bold declaration a few years back: “I no longer fear death.”
He will be sorely missed.
Below are a selection of writings on Ebert’s legacy and how the critical community will remember him,
Dana Stevens (Slate)
A.O. Scott (The New York Times)
Adam Cook (Mubi)
Michael Phillips (The Chicago Tribune)
Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)
Christopher Orr (The Atlantic)
Jim Emerson (Scanners)
Scott Tobias (The AV Club)
Glenn Kenny (Some Came Running)
Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian)
Dan Aronson (Fandor)