It’s a precarious fact of human nature that when people leave this world for the next we like to talk about why we appreciate them and what they did when they were with us that was meaningful. Sometimes, with celebrities, this happens whether or not we knew them.
I never met Roger Ebert, but he entered my childhood through a screen – a Mister Rogers-like example of how to be friends with someone you often disagree with. He saw the critical points of film, what makes it cinema and moves an art for forward, while his tall, lanky friend Siskel argued for the emotion and passion this art installs in individuals.
We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up. If we were lucky, there were tortillas to wrap our beans in. But we had a tiny TV that, with a thick enough wad of aluminum foil, would catch the local network station. We went to movies maybe once every six or seven months. Even so, mom had a list of films she wanted to see, and it always expanded watching Siskel & Ebert.
I did not really understand cinema or lots of other things I totally get now, but there were two things I got out of watching the two men review movies. One was a seed that would grow later – an understanding of the balance of cinematography and emotion. A film needs to be able to be artful and express some portion of humanity.
The other thing I appreciate about seeing these two on screen was that I always got to see clips from movies I probably would not see on the big screen. In a way, going to the movies was seeing this show, or entertainment weekly, and savoring the small bits of cinematic excellence or wretchedness.
As I grew older and began to appreciate sections of the newspaper that weren’t comics, I began to realize that this man I had seen so regularly on a screen also wrote. After that, on Fridays when I had a copy of the local paper, I would rush to the film section to see if one if his syndicated articles had published.
There are many influences on my writing and passion for words, and I think one of them is Roger Ebert’s absolute ability to command and control the English language in his writing. His mastery and poise inspire me to this day – I walk out of a movie and imagine how I would review it, were I a reporter of influence.
Thank you, Roger Ebert, for teaching me about friendship, art, humanity and the importance of film.