Friday, April 05, 2013

My Weekend Thumbs Up

As a kid, Siskel & Ebert’s At the Movies helped me fall in love with the movies. As an adult, Roger Ebert helped me fall in love with writing about movies – and really just writing in general. His passing yesterday moved me, and so many others. The loss of someone you didn’t know personally yet who still deeply touched your life is a strange thing. How do you grieve? Why do you grieve? But there I was on a Thursday afternoon, grieving the loss of someone who used words and movies to talk about what the big, unruly journey of life and living.

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.


Anonymous said...

This is the first I've heard of this.

A great critic, and by all accounts a lovely man.

Always entertaining.

(Didn't always agree with his opinions on films, but that's half the fun of reading reviews, right?)

Anonymous said...

I love that quote.

What a legacy.

Anonymous said...

I first became a fan of Roger Ebert when I was a young girl and my aunt had his yearly Movie Home Companion books. I would read through them, familiarizing myself with thousands of movies, some that I would ultimately see, others that I still have not.

I lost my aunt as a teenager, over 15 years ago. Today, as I mourn the loss of Roger Ebert, I also mourn the loss of my aunt; both taken by cancer.

egghead said...

I know it's weird when a "celebrity" dies and we realize we really don't know them, so why are we grieving? I've adopted a more light-hearted approach in that they'll always be alive to us. And with that thought I was hoping against hope that maybe, just maybe Ebert could somehow slip us a critique of the other side. Soooo curious.

P.S. I love his politics, thanks Snarker for the quotes on kindness. This is a big bad world. --- how'd that slip through?

TheWeyrd1 said...

Two thumbs up!

Kaycee Nightfire said...

Well said, RIP Roger ...

Anonymous said...

This made me so sad. When I was a mopey depressed adolescent, I started reading Roger Ebert's Great Movies reviews, and then started buying them, and then studied cinema just for fun. It actually changed my life and made me fall in love with the cinema.

His blog is one of the best things I have ever found on the internet. He's just amazing. I am so, so sad. I got to feeling like I should have left him a comment or two to say thankyou.

Anyway, it doesn't surprise me that you're a fan. I love your blog, Dorothy Snarker! For once I'm getting in there and actually saying something!

@butwait said...

Thank you for this... a lovely remembrance.

And, totally off-topic, any chance you're chipping away at those postcards from back in your "you love me, you really love me" fund drive?

Because we do truly love you. And we check the mail every day. Except, you know, on Sundays.