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Friday, April 5, 2013

A-Z Challenge 2013: E is for Roger Ebert!

This E post was already written – and I was using it to put the spotlight on one of my favorite horror hosts of all – E was to be for Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. But then, yesterday afternoon – I was devastated to learn that one of my favorite film critics had passed away. So it is with a somewhat heavy heart that I therefore say instead that:


E is for Roger Ebert!






I first encountered Roger Ebert when he teamed with fellow Chicago newspaper film critic Gene Siskel for the PBS series Sneak Previews. Each week the critics for the Windy City’s Tribune (Siskel) and Sun Times (Ebert) would review four or so movies – famously getting fairly snippy with each other when their opinions differed.




Now, though I was a pretty consistent viewer of the series – I don’t think you could call me a fan – because in those early years of the program – the late 70’s and early 80’s – I was a burgeoning film buff who was already leaning towards horror films and exploitation cinema. And both Siskel and Ebert were pretty vociferous in their hatred of the B horror films flying into theaters in the wake of the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween. Friday the 13th took a particularly hard hit from the duo, rather famously in 1980. After that, nearly every week they would present “The Dog of the Week,” the film they agreed was the worst released that week. While TDotW might be a cheapjack action flick, or even a poorly executed drama some weeks – most often it was the newest horror film on the block – and I do mean on the block – as in chopping – as both Siskel and Ebert would take great joy in skewering the movie’s weaknesses.



Marvelous chemistry between these guys. Two thumbs up.


My new favorite picture of them.





So I watched every week and got mad at the boys for not seeing the virtues in every cheapjack slasher flick that came out. But I kept watching. And as both men tempered their opinions at least a little over the course of the next decade or so – I also came to see just how talented they were. Gene Siskel passed away February 20th, 1999,  and Ebert carried on with a succession of new partners in new variations of their TV show. None of these pairings worked as well, so consequently I paid more attention to Ebert’s solo writing.




Later I was fascinated when I found out Roger had written the screenplay for the wild movie Beyond the Valley of the Dolls for director Russ Meyer. They had become friends after Roger wrote favorable reviews of Meyer's earlier movies.



Roger Ebert’s own health took its first blow in 2002 – and in the decade since then he has faced several setbacks and new illnesses. He kept plugging away despite the various ailments taking devastating tolls on him. He lost his voice. He lost his ability to eat solid foods. He lost part of his facial structure. But he was still Roger Ebert – he still had that marvelous eye for cinema. And he kept writing, thank goodness. His website was a marvelous place to visit – all of his most recent reviews teamed up with some of his older writing – plus sections where you could ask him questions – and then the wonderful comments on most of the postings – all of which he seemed to read and many of which he responded to.


In recent years with wife Chaz.



There was his famous smackdown of Rob Schneider – after the Deuce Bigalow star took a shot at a California critic for his negative review of the Deuce Bigalow sequel – stating that since the critic had never won a Pulitzer he was unqualified to review Schneider’s movie - Ebert, who most definitely HAD won a Pulitzer prize – took every iota of wind out of Schneider’s sails with three words: “Your movie sucks.” Schneider later sent flowers as a conciliatory gesture – and Ebert accepted them with grace. He also took the phrase “Your movie sucks” and turned it into the title of a book – a compendium of some of his harshest reviews. I loved these stories – and all of Ebert’s tales of his travels and love for cinema. I’m deeply saddened that there won’t be new stories for me to read – but we still have all of his older reviews and writings to enjoy.



The heavenly balcony is open. Gene’s been waiting. Rest in peace, Roger Ebert. I’ll see you at the movies.






Until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I'm Just Gonna Sit Here Awhile.

29 comments:

  1. Your write-up rocks.
    R.I.P Roger Ebert

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  2. Beautiful tribute, my friend. I loved Roger and was a regular viewer of Siskel & Ebert. They often made me mad as hell, but I Loved to to listen to them dissect a film. They were a cut above the critics, true intellects who had a deep passion for film. Many a critic now lacks the in those two areas, being critics for criticism's sake rather than out of any true love for film. They do not write volumes about film, they churn out vapid little pieces for their blogs or tweet out brief thoughts. Ebert will definitely be missed.

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    1. Thanks Mel. You're exactly right. The level of detail these guys saw in the films they watched; the cinema history they knew backwards and forwards; their chemistry even when (or maybe especially when) they were sniping at each other. No one has managed to recreate that lightning in bottle since. I'm not sure anyone ever will.

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  3. I'm terribly saddened by Roger Ebert's passing. Like the great swath of abiding cinema lovers, and, to a larger degree the average moviegoers who value and recognize Ebert's wisdom, we have lost something special today. His death marks the end of an era. There are many others in the profession capable of forging exceptional criticism (Bordwell, Rosenbaum, and Hoberman immediately come to mind), but no one can bridge the gap between mainstream and cinephilia quite as effectively as Mr. Ebert. He was the everyman.

    It's hard to quantify his importance or compute eloquently the legacy he has fashioned. All I know is my infatuation with film, and my deeper appreciation of it as an art form, has been sowed through the words of Roger Ebert.

    Great, great post, pal!

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  4. Thanks, Matty. We did lose someone special today.

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  5. Will you please write MY epitaph someday?

    No one has summed up the career of a brilliant, sometimes controversial, but always brutally honest film critic like you have.

    Thank you. Two thumbs up for your blog!

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    1. Thanks very much Dave. It was a heartfelt eulogy.

      I will write up something for you - if you promise I won't need to for fifty or sixty years!

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    2. I quit smoking five years ago, been on a regiment of diet and exercise, and with new advances in medical technology, I may have another seventy ahead of me! Great blog! Keep up the great work!

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  6. R.I.P Roger Ebert. This is a great tribute - thanks for sharing. -Belinda [A - Z participant]

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    1. Thank you for saying so - and thanks for coming by!

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  7. Excellent tribute. His absence will definitely be felt...

    Love and stuff,
    Michy

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    1. It will indeed. Thanks for visiting - please come back anytime!

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  8. Beautiful tribute, my friend.

    I was surprised how I took Ebert's death to heart. Via your blog, I think I figured out why. I remember watching Siskel and Ebert when I was a kid. It was the first commentary I actually sought out, and something my folks and I watched together. There's a strong sense of nostalgia when I think of their show. With Ebert's passing, we've lost yet another piece of our childhood. And I'm feeling it.

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    1. I think you just pegged why this passing hit me so hard too - you're exactly right - it's like our childhood is a big ice floe sitting in ever warmer waters - and pieces are falling away. Not enjoying that.

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  9. Aw, he's the perfect subject for today's E post! Wonderful tribute!

    (New follower via the A to Z.)

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    1. Wow - thanks Nancy! I appreciate the kind words AND the follow! Hope you come back often, stay late, and comment anytime you feel like it! Cheers!

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  10. That is an awesome picture of Siskel and Ebert Craig. A great man indeed.

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    1. Thanks Maurice - I just love it - it shows a real bond between the two men.

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  11. This is a really nice tribute to Ebert. May he RIP.

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  12. Gosh, not the first tribute and sure it won't be the last.

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  13. My favorite yet. While I would have LOVED the Elvira post, maybe she will appear when we get to "M." I am, however, waaaaay happy you dedicated this post to Roger Ebert. I rememer the days (vividly) watching Siskel & Ebert on TV. I rarely agreed with them, but it was a lot of fun to watch. Also, I didn't know you were such a horror film fan. How did I miss that?! I own haunted attractions. I am probably the only haunted house owner who doesn't watch scary movies. Why? Because they SCARE me. Sheesh! :)

    Dana
    Waiter, drink please!



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    1. Dana - you rock - anyone calling anything I've written a favorite is one of my favorite people! I want to know more about your haunted attractions - LOVE THEM!

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  14. So glad you featured Ebert for your letter "E" today. Sneak Previews was my absolute favorite show. It was the only movie critique show on TV at the time. This was before satellite TV and there were maybe three or four channels. That was it. VCRs would come along in the early 80s. The show was great because you got to see clips from the films, which you couldn't do with a newspaper review. Thanks for the tribute, Craig.

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    1. Thanks for coming by to check it out and for sharing your memories of Roger Ebert, Luana!

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  15. He was my favorite critic. And will be missed!!

    Hugs!

    Valerie Nunez and the Flying Platypi

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    1. He will indeed! Thanks for coming by, Valerie!

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