I often disliked his reviews. How could he give three stars or more to some big budget action or sci-fi flick with poor story logic, underdeveloped characters, and no thematic content? I once heard him explain that he judged each film on what it was trying to accomplish, not on a hard and fast scale of what is good and what is bad. So if a movie offered special effects and little depth, as long as it delivered what it promised then that is how he assessed it.
I’m still not sure if I can get on board with that approach, but if anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt it is Roger Ebert. He died today after losing a battle with cancer. He’d been fighting the disease for years and never stopped writing. His love of movies was that powerful.
There may have been more literary film reviewers and critics –Agee, Truffaut, Kael, and others–but I don’t think anyone brought as much attention and acclaim to the job of film critic as Ebert. Partnering with Gene Siskel on the iconic television show “At the Movies,” they made movie reviewing accessible. Oftentimes, they appeared as if two friends bickering over a movie, and in so doing made the pursuit human. Furthermore, they brought film critics out of the shadows, literally. They were not faceless men and women, only known in print. They were flesh and blood and opened the doors for a new generation of critics.
Lest you think Ebert was only a ‘popular’ film critic, think again. His books on film stack up against any thesis by a film studies PhD. The man knew his discipline, and in kind of a Mark Twain way, he transcended the role of critic and writer. He was a champion of film.
So, if I were to assess the movie that was Roger Ebert’s life, I’d say he deserves the highest praise. He accomplished just what he set out to do.