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.