Thursday, April 4, 2013

On the Legacy of Roger Ebert - April 4, 2013 R.I.P.

All of Chicago (two thumbs up ;-)

Chicago SunTimes tribute
Chicago's WTTW's tribute
NPR's Fresh Air tribute
AVClub tribute

Those of us who grew-up in Chicago in the 1970-80s, grew-up in good part watching a weekly TV Show "Siskel and Ebert At the Movies," which featured rival film critics Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune and Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times giving their opinions of films "coming to a theater near you." ;-)

Their program, which began on Chicago's local PBS station WTTW Channel 11, eventually went commercial and became syndicated nationwide.  Indeed it was remarkable that these two film critics from Chicago (rather than New York and Los Angeles) became probably the best known / most trusted film critics in the United States.  My family just loved them and we probably watched the two talk about the movies more than we actually went to them ;-)

Gene Siskel died in 1999, Roger Ebert's career continued even as he himself began a battle with cancer in 2003, a battle that cost him his jaw (and ability to speak and even eat normally) in 2008.  Since his voice had been taped so often during his years in broadcasting, team of computer specialists came with a way allow Roger be able to talk once more in his own (previously recorded) voice using a computer keyboard, a remarkable feat and something that by news accounts at the time deeply impressed his wife Chaz of twenty years.   However, since those surgeries he focused more on his writing and an immensely successful blog.

Readers of my blog will note the obvious (and nearly life-long) respect that I've had for the two.  I've been a fan of the Gene Siskel Film Center which is associated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago attending (and writing about) many of the film programs organized there.   And since the beginning of my blog, where possible, I've always made it a point to provide a link to Roger Ebert's review of whatever film I was reviewing.  I've also found it kinda nice that Roger Ebert was born and raised Catholic and that he would make regular mention of his Catholic roots in his reviews.

We all eventually have to pass-on from this world.  We all hope to leave a positive legacy behind.  I do believe that both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert have done so admirably well by helping millions of American moviegoers appreciate the story telling ability of films.  Ebert in particular noted one time that "Films can be 'empathy machines' allowing us to appreciate for a moment what it's like to be of another gender, of another race, of another time and place.

I absolutely agree with that ;-)  Films CAN help us to appreciate that we are all brothers and sisters to year other.

So both Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert belong to eternity now.  As things go, 50 years from now, even most Chicagoans won't know who exactly the two were except for buildings (or film awards or festivals) named after them.  But their legacies will be present in their lingering impact on millions of viewers and readers of their reviews which have helped keep American cinema in particular fundamentally positive and an instrument that brings us together rather than one that would tend toward simply banality, the quick buck or simply  bringing us down.  The two spent their lives quite well!


  1. I am not a "movie buff." There are a bunch of movies I've really enjoyed, but watching movies is not generally a way I prefer to spend a lot of my time. That being said, I really enjoyed the way Ebert thought and wrote and spoke about movies: I thought he took the job of movie criticism seriously without taking either himself or the movies too seriously. Probably not coincidentally, I found that his taste coincided with mine quite a bit more often than that of any other critic.

  2. BTW:

  3. Roger Ebert honoring another Chicago journalism legend Mike Royko ending with Ebert reading Mike Royko's devastatingly funny review of Ebert's only film, the legendarily awful "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" ;-) --

  4. Father, this is Roger's last review. Kind of appropriate, actually.