The first time we hear Roger Ebert talk in Life Itself, a deeply enthralling documentary about the late film critic who changed film criticism, he’s giving a speech (which he did quite often — sometimes, I can testify, when he was just standing in a room with you), and he observes that every one of us is more or less trapped inside the person we are. It is therefore our job, says Ebert, to attempt to understand who other people are; that’s basically the premise of civilization. And that, for Ebert, is where movies come in. Movies, he says, are “a machine that generates empathy,” and that’s just about as perfect an evocation of the primal appeal of movies as I have ever heard. It’s also a great example of why Roger Ebert was such a compelling writer, thinker, talker, and human being. It didn’t even matter whether you agreed with him — he had a way of putting things that was pithy and practical and philosophical all at the same time. He stopped drinking in 1979, but the easy, flowing panache of the barroom raconteur never left him. His thoughts, and the way that he expressed them, were catchy, infectious, contagious. Even when you did disagree with him (which, in my case, was often), the way he put things created a logic of enchantingly fused thought and passion. READ FULL STORY
Tag: Gene Siskel (1-2 of 2)
For anyone who grew up in the late ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s watching Roger Ebert spar on television with his partner-in-thumbship, Gene Siskel, the rudely boisterous and antic sound of two grown men not just talking about movies but arguing about them came to seem as essential a part of the American movie landscape as popcorn or starships. If you’re a movie buff, it’s hard to imagine that both these men are gone now; their shows, and our memories of them, remain so alive. Back when Ebert and Siskel were major TV stars, I was often asked, especially if I was talking to a class of high school or college students, what I thought of their show — I always dug it — and also what I thought of the whole thumbs-up/thumbs down system. On that score, I confessed, I was more ambivalent. It was a useful system, to be sure; it was catchy and fun and, in its way, defining. But I had a few problems with it (which I’ll get to in a bit). READ FULL STORY
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