Roger Ebert and Me

Roger Ebert was a teacher involved in a profession of a critic. He had this natural charisma that made it feel like anyone could do what he did. And, I credit him as the one who is responsible for the whole internet review phenomenon taking off...

My career has been an interesting one. In as much as I get to meet influential people. I know I never talk about it, I guess I do not like to “drop names” but, here I feel it's warranted.

I have noticed on the death of Roger Ebert, many people are using his death as a way to talk about themselves. It reminds me of the old quote from Fight Club:

Narrator: When people think you're dying, they really, really listen to you, instead of just.

Marla Singer: Instead of just waiting for their turn to speak?

I am guessing once you're dead they can go back to talking about themselves. Many of Roger's acquiescence have the most trite, anecdotal, and vapid stories about him. Ironically, many of the people who never even met him, have the most profound, touching, and insightful comments on precisely what his existence has meant to them.

Well, I guess, as a person who has worked with him twice, I will have a go. I met Roger twice on a lecture in the early 2000s. I never held him in regard as “one of the best film critics”. He catered more toward the everyman; the common Joe. He existed at a time, and luckily for him, where films were transitioning to movies, and movies were becoming more and more accessible—and by that I mean Jaws. As it was one of the first studio movies to have a major printing. Prior to that, for the most part, movies traveled and played for a time much like a concert. Transition too came to the film critic. Whereby, he could switch from the cerebral, cold, and distant critic—a world I know very well coming from New York— to a more down-home and folksy voice-of-the-volks. Roger was perfect: A man from the corn-belt who reviews corny movies. And that by no way is an attack on Roger or his career.

However, while it is obvious I didn't hold his critique on cinema in high regard; he missed the boat on 1989's Batman “it's hard to have much fun watching it. It's a depressing experience.”, and heaped praise on Avatar. There are, of course, many other examples of his misguided critiques—I will not belabor the point. Roger did impressed me was his natural ability as a teacher.

Roger Ebert was a teacher involved in a profession of a critic. He had this natural charisma that made it feel like anyone could do what he did. And, I credit him as "The One" who is responsible for the whole internet review phenomenon taking off.

I don't know if Roger saw it that way, but it is precisely what he had doneNo small task! He was a natural born orator, and knew how to manipulate a crowd to get them to think, they knew something of the billion dollar industry of movie makingAs if their opinion was valid! That's the secret of great teachers, is they almost have a cult of personality. They rope you in, and make you take interest in something wholly unremarkable, and you learn something that would be otherwise damn boring.
Roger also Pushed Werner Herzog's Cave of Dreams – as a 3D experience ! This is just one example of how amazing Ebert's brain was! And that simple action alone would redeem him of awarding Twilight 5-Stars, and calling it overlooked as the best picture for The Academy Awards. Thankfully, he did not.

As a lecturer I can say with apodictic certainty he was one of the best lecturers I had ever worked with. He knew how to share the room, he once remarked, “Every seminar I come to there is always a young person more capable than I of hosting the entire lecture.”

In the end, I do not believe Roger will be remembered for his reviews, but his charisma, and his insight. He was clearly educated, just listen to his dialogue on Citizen Kane, a movie we both agree was a pinnacle in film making.

Roger had always lamented that he for got to say one thing during the recording commentary tracks for Citizen KaneAnd I don't know if if ever got to rectify that. It was that scene of the desk, where Mr. Bernstein talks about a young girl; how an old man remembers certain things. Well, the construction of the set itself captivated Roger. He mentioned the window, Mr. Bernstein but had forgotten to mention the desk specifically was a cutaway specifically built for that scene. Often many of the physical object taken for granted in Citizen Kane was a farce; a mere illusion. And I agree, as Welles came from a theater background, so most props have to be cut-aways for breakdown, set up, and cost.

However, the night he recorded it in his private theater in the basement of his home, he wanted the commentary to carry with it the love and vitality he himself had for the film. In other words, he didn't have a script. Now a natural orator as he, could have made it sound completely lively, as he did with some of he most sardonic tweets, but he had forgotten it in the haste of passion —the Zeal!— of that Citizen Kane commentary what he had planned for days to say. It was something he knew he had to speak of, well in advance, something he desperately wanted to communicate, something that he tired to hold in his head, but completely was lost in the moment.

And it is with that passion Roger had conducted his life. That bravery he lived it. And the amalgamation of the two which he taught film to the public completely free of charge. Something I have heard no one mention. And what I hold to be his greatest achievement on a humanistic and academic level— Two worlds that rarely meet.

One day, I'll have to tell you my George Lucas story. Until then, thank you for watching me.
Roger, you will be missed.


Popular Posts