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Movie Lovers Will Miss Roger Ebert

“No good film is too long,” he once wrote, a sentiment he felt strongly enough about to have engraved on pens. “No bad movie is short enough.” – Roger Ebert dies at 70 after battle with cancer

Publicity shot, 2004

Publicity shot, 2004

AFTER READING what turned out to be his very last post he happened to write yesterday, I sent a silent meditation his way. I’m sure I wasn’t alone.

Inevitably in this life, our body betrays us. Fighting the valiant fight is what most do, sucking everything out of this life we can.

Roger Ebert seemed to live every second until his last.

Both my father and my mother had similar disfiguring cancers as Roger Ebert did, so the pictures I have up on our family rogue’s gallery wall are ones where they still look very healthy and vibrant. I’m doing the same thing for Mr. Ebert, with his photo a 2004 publicity shot.

Remembering him back when he was with Gene Siskel, their raucous “thumbs up – thumbs down” conversations were always worth tuning in to watch.

Godspeed, sir. You held filmmakers and actors accountable, which made the film industry a little better place for movie goers.


7 Responses to Movie Lovers Will Miss Roger Ebert

  1. TPAZ April 4, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

    “Remembering him back when he was with Gene Siskel, their raucous “thumbs up — thumbs down” conversations were always worth tuning in to watch.”

    You, my dear Taylor, penned the understatement of the new century. Roger Ebert, may he rest in peace, together with his movie intellectual equal – Gene Siskel, taught Cinema Appreciation, Film History, and Beginning, Intermediate, and Advance Film Making to Baby Boomers.

    Having taken film courses in the middle 1970s, in So. California, my salute of Roger’s professorial celluloid story telling prowess is not hyperbole.

    Today, America lost a giant in the film industry, but more importantly, the world lost a good man who loved movies.

  2. Cujo359 April 4, 2013 at 7:45 pm #

    In the days before DVRs, I used to make a point of watching Sneak Previews and At The Movies whenever I could. The discussions Ebert had with his co-hosts were way, way beyond the shallow critiques that make up many movie reviews. They were intellectual discussions of an art form that both participants knew well.

  3. jjamele April 4, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

    Someone should release a DVD set of Siskel and Ebert’s reviews. They were THAT good.

  4. TPAZ April 4, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

    Below is just one example of roger Ebert’s brilliance:

    The Exorcist
    Release Date: 1973

    Ebert Rating: ****

    By Roger Ebert Dec 26, 1973

    The year 1973 began and ended with cries of pain. It began with Ingmar Bergman’s “Cries and Whispers,” and it closed with William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist.” Both films are about the weather of the human soul, and no two films could be more different. Yet each in its own way forces us to look inside, to experience horror, to confront the reality of human suffering. The Bergman film is a humanist classic. The Friedkin film is an exploitation of the most fearsome resources of the cinema. That does not make it evil, but it does not make it noble, either.

    The difference, maybe, is between great art and great craftsmanship. Bergman’s exploration of the lines of love and conflict within the family of a woman dying of cancer was a film that asked important questions about faith and death, and was not afraid to admit there might not be any answers. Friedkin’s film is about a twelve-year-old girl who either is suffering from a severe neurological disorder or perhaps has been possessed by an evil spirit. Friedkin has the answers; the problem is that we doubt he believes them.

    We don’t necessarily believe them ourselves, but that hardly matters during the film’s two hours. If movies are, among other things, opportunities for escapism, then “The Exorcist” is one of the most powerful ever made. Our objections, our questions, occur in an intellectual context after the movie has ended. During the movie there are no reservations, but only experiences. We feel shock, horror, nausea, fear, and some small measure of dogged hope.
    Rarely do movies affect us so deeply. The first time I saw “Cries and Whispers,” I found myself shrinking down in my seat, somehow trying to escape from the implications of Bergman’s story. “The Exorcist” also has that effect–but we’re not escaping from Friedkin’s implications, we’re shrinking back from the direct emotional experience he’s attacking us with. This movie doesn’t rest on the screen; it’s a frontal assault.

    The story is well-known; it’s adapted, more or less faithfully, by William Peter Blatty from his own bestseller. Many of the technical and theological details in his book are accurate. Most accurate of all is the reluctance of his Jesuit hero, Father Karras, to encourage the ritual of exorcism: “To do that,” he says, “I’d have to send the girl back to the sixteenth century.” Modern medicine has replaced devils with paranoia and schizophrenia, he explains. Medicine may have, but the movie hasn’t. The last chapter of the novel never totally explained in detail the final events in the tortured girl’s bedroom, but the movie’s special effects in the closing scenes leave little doubt that an actual evil spirit was in that room, and that it transferred bodies. Is this fair? I guess so; in fiction the artist has poetic license.

    It may be that the times we live in have prepared us for this movie. And Friedkin has admittedly given us a good one. I’ve always preferred a generic approach to film criticism; I ask myself how good a movie is of its type. “The Exorcist” is one of the best movies of its type ever made; it not only transcends the genre of terror, horror, and the supernatural, but it transcends such serious, ambitious efforts in the same direction as Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby.” Carl Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is a greater film–but, of course, not nearly so willing to exploit the ways film can manipulate feeling.

    “The Exorcist” does that with a vengeance. The film is a triumph of special effects. Never for a moment–not when the little girl is possessed by the most disgusting of spirits, not when the bed is banging and the furniture flying and the vomit is welling out–are we less than convinced. The film contains brutal shocks, almost indescribable obscenities. That it received an R rating and not the X is stupefying.

    The performances are in every way appropriate to this movie made this way. Ellen Burstyn, as the possessed girl’s mother, rings especially true; we feel her frustration when doctors and psychiatrists talk about lesions on the brain and she knows there’s something deeper, more terrible, going on. Linda Blair, as the little girl, has obviously been put through an ordeal in this role, and puts us through one. Jason Miller, as the young Jesuit, is tortured, doubting, intelligent.

    And the casting of Max von Sydow as the older Jesuit exorcist was inevitable; he has been through so many religious and metaphysical crises in Bergman’s films that he almost seems to belong on a theological battlefield the way John Wayne belonged on a horse. There’s a striking image early in the film that has the craggy von Sydow facing an ancient, evil statue; the image doesn’t so much borrow from Bergman’s famous chess game between von Sydow and Death (in “The Seventh Seal”) as extend the conflict and raise the odds.

    I am not sure exactly what reasons people will have for seeing this movie; surely enjoyment won’t be one, because what we get here aren’t the delicious chills of a Vincent Price thriller, but raw and painful experience. Are people so numb they need movies of this intensity in order to feel anything at all? It’s hard to say.

    Even in the extremes of Friedkin’s vision there is still a feeling that this is, after all, cinematic escapism and not a confrontation with real life. There is a fine line to be drawn there, and “The Exorcist” finds it and stays a millimeter on this side.

    Cast & Credits

    Ellen Burstyn Chris MacNeil
    Max von Sydow Father Lankester Merrin
    Jason Miller Father Damien Karras
    Lee J. Cobb Lieutenant William Kinderman
    Linda Blair Regan Teresa MacNeil

    • Taylor Marsh April 4, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

      Oh, thanks so much for posting this gem.

      • TPAZ April 4, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

        I knew you were a fan of film…

  5. TPAZ April 5, 2013 at 5:11 am #

    Please indulge me one more posting on your website of one more review from Roger Ebert.
    Thank you.

    Apocalypse Now
    Release Date: 1979

    Ebert Rating: ****

    By Roger Ebert Jun 1, 1979

    In his book The Films of My Life, the French director Francois Truffaut makes a curious statement. He used to believe, he says, that a successful film had to simultaneously express “an idea of the world and an idea of cinema.” But now, he writes: “I demand that a film express either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema. I am not at all interested in anything in between; I am not interested in all those films that do not pulse.”

    It may seem strange to begin a review of Francis Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” with those words, but consider them for a moment and they apply perfectly to this sprawling film. The critics who have rejected Coppola’s film mostly did so on Truffaut’s earlier grounds: They have arguments with the ideas about the world and the war in “Apocalypse Now,” or they disagree with the very idea of a film that cost $31 million to make and was then carted all over the world by a filmmaker still uncertain whether he has the right ending.

    That “other” film on the screen — the one we debate because of its ideas, not its images — is the one that has caused so much controversy about “Apocalypse Now.” We have all read that Coppola took as his inspiration the Joseph Conrad novel Heart of Darkness, and that he turned Conrad’s journey up the Congo into a metaphor for another journey up a jungle river, into the heart of the Vietnam War.

    We’ve all read Coppola’s grandiose statements (the most memorable: “This isn’t a film about Vietnam. This film is Vietnam.”). We’ve heard that Marlon Brando was paid $1 million for his closing scenes, and that Coppola gambled his personal fortune to finish the film, and, heaven help us, we’ve even read a journal by the director’s wife in which she discloses her husband’s ravings and infidelities.

    But all such considerations are far from the reasons why “Apocalypse Now” is a good and important film — a masterpiece, I believe. Years and years from now, when Coppola’s budget and his problems have long been forgotten, “Apocalypse” will still stand, I think, as a grand and grave and insanely inspired gesture of filmmaking — of moments that are operatic in their style and scope, and of other moments so silent we can almost hear the director thinking to himself.

    I should at this moment make a confession: I am not particularly interested in the “ideas” in Coppola’s film. Critics of “Apocalypse” have said that Coppola was foolish to translate Heart of Darkness, that Conrad’s vision had nothing to do with Vietnam, and that Coppola was simply borrowing Conrad’s cultural respectability to give a gloss to his own disorganized ideas. The same objection was made to the hiring of Brando: Coppola was hoping, according to this version, that the presence of Brando as an icon would distract us from the emptiness of what he’s given to say.

    Such criticisms are made by people who indeed are plumbing “Apocalypse Now” for its ideas, and who are as misguided as the veteran Vietnam correspondents who breathlessly reported, some months ago, that “The Deer Hunter” was not “accurate.” What idea or philosophy could we expect to find in “Apocalypse Now” — and what good would it really do, at this point after the Vietnam tragedy, if Brando’s closing speeches did have the “answers”?

    Like all great works of art about war, “Apocalypse Now” essentially contains only one idea or message, the not-especially-enlightening observation that war is hell. We do not go to see Coppola’s movie for that insight — something Coppola, but not some of his critics, knows well.

    Coppola also well knows (and demonstrated in the “Godfather” films) that movies aren’t especially good at dealing with abstract ideas — for those you’d be better off turning to the written word — but they are superb for presenting moods and feelings, the look of a battle, the expression on a face, the mood of a country. “Apocalypse Now” achieves greatness not by analyzing our “experience in Vietnam,” but by re-creating, in characters and images, something of that experience.

    An example: The scene in which Robert Duvall, as a crazed lieutenant colonel, leads his troops in a helicopter assault on a village is, quite simply, the best movie battle scene ever filmed. It’s simultaneously numbing, depressing, and exhilarating: As the rockets jar from the helicopters and spring through the air, we’re elated like kids for a half-second, until the reality of the consequences sinks in.

    Another wrenching scene — in which the crew of Martin Sheen’s Navy patrol boat massacres the Vietnamese peasants in a small boat — happens with such sudden, fierce, senseless violence that it forces us to understand for the first time how such things could happen.

    Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” is filled with moments like that, and the narrative device of the journey upriver is as convenient for him as it was for Conrad. That’s really why he uses it, and not because of literary cross-references for graduate students to catalog. He takes
    the journey, strings episodes along it, leads us at last to Brando’s awesome, stinking hideaway … and then finds, so we’ve all heard, that he doesn’t have an ending. Well, Coppola doesn’t have an ending, if we or he expected the closing scenes to pull everything together and make sense of it. Nobody should have been surprised. “Apocalypse Now” doesn’t tell any kind of a conventional story, doesn’t have a thought-out message for us about Vietnam, has no answers, and thus needs no ending.

    The way the film ends now, with Brando’s fuzzy, brooding monologues and the final violence, feels much more satisfactory than any conventional ending possibly could.

    What’s great in the film, and what will make it live for many years and speak to many audiences, is what Coppola achieves on the levels Truffaut was discussing: the moments of agony and joy in making cinema. Some of those moments come at the same time; remember again the helicopter assault and its unsettling juxtaposition of horror and exhilaration.

    Remember the weird beauty of the massed helicopters lifting over the trees in the long shot, and the insane power of Wagner’s music, played loudly during the attack, and you feel what Coppola was getting at: Those moments as common in life as art, when the whole huge grand mystery of the world, so terrible, so beautiful, seems to hang in the balance.

    Cast & Credits

    Marlon Brando (Colonel Kurtz), Robert Duvall (Lieutenant Colonel
    Kilgore), Martin Sheen (Captain Willard), Frederic Forrest (Chef),
    Albert Hall (Chief), Sam Bottoms (Lance), Larry Fishburne (Clean),
    Dennis Hopper (Photographer).

    Directed and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. Screenplay by John Milius and Coppola.

.... a writer is someone who takes the universal whore of language
and turns her into a virgin again.  ~ erica jong