I’m an art critic. It’s what I do. I’ve sold critiques and analyses of various art forms to various outlets, and I’ve written them on a volunteer basis for others, because it’s a passion of mine. Books, games, movies, music – anything that I have strong opinions about, I am comfortable writing about, and will write about them for the simple joy of writing. While it’s always nice to be paid for it or to get recognition for it, the bottom line is I do these things because that is who I am. That is an indelible part of my identity: I think critically about the art that I consume on a daily basis and feel the need to write about it and share those thoughts with whoever will listen.
This part of me, this inherent drive to think and share that so dominates my thoughts and my time, is because of Roger Ebert.
My earliest encounter with Mr. Ebert was a chance encounter with his At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper show sometime in 2002. I still fondly recall happening upon the channel, seeing a clip of the new Spider-Man movie that I was eager to see, and hearing Mr. Ebert give his criticism and ultimately a thumbs down for the film. I remember being outraged, having not even seen this film, and thinking to myself that he was just stupid and didn’t get it. I eventually saw the film, and remember enjoying it very much (a stance that has changed since then, mind you), and I allowed this perception to fester.
Two years later, a similar chance encounter occurred leading up to the release of, wouldn’t you know it, Spider-Man 2. This one, however, Mr. Ebert loved, and I was with him on that. Being far more internet savvy at this point, I did some internet sifting and found his print review on the Chicago Sun-Times website. That moment sticks out to me, because that moment is the moment that I stopped thinking about films as pieces of entertainment. That was the moment that films became capable of art in my mind. I did an archive binge of the rest of Mr. Ebert’s body of work sometime thereafter, awed by how intelligent his discussion of films was, but always in a way that felt accessible, inherently agreeable, and simple.
And that’s really why Roger Ebert was the best critic around: here was a man who understood that films were art, why films were art, and how the artistry of the filmmaker could effect emotions in the audience. Here was a man who understood those things, who understood words like mise-en-scene and diegesis and yet spoke and wrote in such a way that people who did not understand those words would know what he was saying. Here was a scholar who wrote for everybody, an academic who wrote for the working man. Roger Ebert brought film criticism to the people, and in spite of his academic leanings exuded the feel of a man who loved movies above all else, who loved movies an infectious love that burns in so many people today.
I owe that burning love for the cinema to Mr. Ebert. I owe what has become a critical part of myself to this man.
And today, he passed away.
Roger Ebert was an American treasure, a national icon, as the tremendous number of people mourning for him can attest. His loss is a loss for all of us. But for some of us, his loss is a loss of part of ourselves. Just watching Twitter, watching so many of the people I look up to and aspire to be like dole out praise for this man is heartbreaking. He was part of so many of us, and has indirectly touched almost everybody in the country today.
I will no longer be able to realize one of my small little dreams of having Mr. Ebert comment, positively or negatively, in short or at length, on one of my films. And while this makes me profoundly sad, it is ultimately okay. Because Mr. Ebert left me with more than a brief (or long) comment about my work would have done. He left me with the desire to make those works.
About four years ago, Mr. Ebert wrote a blog entry regarding his acceptance of his impending death. It was a touching entry to be sure, but in particular a certain bit stuck out at me.
Someday I will no longer call out, and there will be no heartbeat. What happens then? From my point of view, nothing. Absolutely nothing. Still, as I wrote today to a woman I have known since she was six: “You’d better cry at my memorial service.”
She won’t be the only one, Roger.