Through his six decades of working in film criticism, Ebert has accomplished too many things to list. Appropriate bookends for our changing times is the almost equal weight to his Pulitzer Prize and his more than 800,000 Twitter followers given in his obituaries. Criticism has moved en masse from the fine art of being a movie reviewer to the consumer craft of cultural anthropologist. While some may still only know him best as the thumps up, thumbs down guy, in later years when illness took away his ability to speak (and eat or drink) he remained no less a prolific man of words.
His film reviews are the stuff everyone who attempts to enter popular criticism dreams of. Funny, astute, clear. While lots of people like to revel in the takedown mastery of his bad reviews, I prefer to enjoy the joyful generosity of his good reviews. Because it’s when a writer gets to write about something he loves that we see the true depth of his heart. And Ebert, man, he loved the movies. And he loved thinking about the world beyond himself. Whether talking about gay marriage or his wife Chaz or eating or climate change or even Glenn Beck.
His writing on death, which he knew was coming – as it is for us all – though probably faster as cancer took him piece by piece, is particularly poignant. This passage sums up, for me, why I choked back emotion when I heard about Ebert’s passing.
“Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.If you think it’s oxymoronic to describe a critic as kind, then you probably just haven’t read enough Roger Ebert. (p.s. If you haven’t already, read Esquire’s gorgeous 2010 profile of the man. Even more writing to envy, but I digress.) Leave the world a little kinder than when you found it. Enjoy the ride as long as it takes you. His last written words, posted just two days ago:
So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies.Thanks for loving the movies in particular and life in general. Thumps up, kind sir. Happy weekend, all.