Or, rather, I understand the movies and myself well enough to call it love.
Because of you.
What has been your favorite of the festival?
Where are you off to next?
(Can I come too?)
I don’t remember a single answer. Probably because I did all the talking. We parted ways after a few minutes — me embarrassed, he to file a dispatch to Chicago. Looking back now, a day after his death at 70, I’m relieved that I had a chance to thank him.
A critic’s noblest and most generous act is to inspire passion in others.
Roger Ebert taught me to love the movies.
Roger Ebert taught the world to love the movies. Look how many movie lovers are publishing their gratitude in tribute, in personal terms. Look how some refer to “the movies,” with its definite article — his populist, intimate, Midwestern way of referring to his life’s passion.
He became most known for his thumbs, but this up-or-down brand was oddly out of sync with his ecumenical, nuanced grasp of cinema and life. This man was a mensch. This analyst was a humanist. This was a wit among twits. Everyone is a critic now, but how many of us possess the required authority, humanity and dexterity with words?
The first writing I did for newspapers was film criticism, and Ebert’s annual compendia of starred reviews were my inspiration. During high school I tacked above my desk one of his enduring quotations: “A movie is not what it is about but how it is about it.” The simple, elegant authority of this maxim transfixed and guided me, not least because one might substitute “story” — or anything else really — for “movie.” It guides how I write today, about anything. The smallest, most insignificant subject can make for a great story if you inquire with verve and execute with care. By mastering the parameters of a medium and rendering his judgment and appreciation into words, Ebert taught me that. A writer must be both skeptical and big-hearted, intractable on some matters and flexible on others. Ebert taught me that too.
“We must try to contribute joy to the world,” he wrote in May 2009, in a blog post on mortality.
“The cinema is the greatest art form ever conceived for generating emotions in its audience,” he wrote in 1991 in a preface to his top 10 list.
Roger Ebert contributed joy by sharing his joy. And by sharing his outrage. After all, if we are going to pay money to withdraw into darkness for two hours, it better be worth it.
“We are all allotted an unknown but finite number of hours of consciousness,” he wrote on his blog in 2008. “Maybe a critic can help you spend them more meaningfully.”