Thursday, April 04, 2013


Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

By Edward Copeland
If there ever were a reason to brush the cobwebs off my long-dormant blog, today provided it. I wasn't going to waste my thoughts on the passing of Roger Ebert on a note on Facebook or try to squeeze them into multiple 140-word tweets on Twitter. He deserves much more than that and so do I. I'm still forced to use a limited technology, but I'll try to make the best of it.

I debated whether or not to use a photo or Roger solo or Siskel & Ebert together again, but I felt I had to acknowledge them both. It would be nice to say that my interest in film criticism began pouring over the works of Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, Manny Farber and the like, but that wouldn't be true. I'm a child of television and those two men up there and their PBS television show Sneak Previews, which I first saw in fourth grade, was my first exposure to movie criticism. I already was a budding film buff, but this was new to me.

During the many years that Roger and Gene worked together on their various shows — going from Sneak Previews to At the Movies to Siskel & Ebert & the Movies before simplifying to plain Siskel & Ebert — I attempted to watch faithfully, not an easy task given the constant switch in TV stations and time periods that come with syndicated fare. I also developed my own voice and did begin reading those other critics, as well as the many books Roger put out himself. I can't remember how many editions of his Movie Home Companion I had.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I wrote both men, seeking advice about the path to film criticism. Siskel never responded, but Roger returned a great form letter that apologized for being a form letter and mentioned how when he was young he had written a letter to Betty Furness, having a crush on the actress turned TV fixture. He received a form letter along with what supposedly was one of Ms. Furness' hairpins and that inspired him try to personalize his necessary form letters for the piles of mail he got just a bit. During senior year of high school, members of our newspaper and yearbook staffs went to a national journalism convention in Chicago and we toured the Sun-Times. I noticed a staff phone directory on a desk and jotted down Roger's extension, but I never worked up the guts to call it.

The only time I actually was in the same room with Roger was at the 1995 junket for Casino in New York. I wish I'd stopped to say hi, but it was a news conference setup with Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone and Martin Scorsese seated at a long table. When the Q&A was over, I had to make a beeline to Scorsese.

Roger truly entered my life in the past couple of years when, much to my surprise, he wrote a piece about online criticism for The Wall Street Journal and listed this blog as one of his must-reads. I had no idea that he even knew who I was. Later, with details much too complicated to explain, he saved my bacon when I had started work on a 20th anniversary piece on The Larry Sanders Show — including interviews with many people in front of and behind the cameras — and despite it not being movie-related, he gave me a home. I also got to give him a funny story about Gene that he didn't know, thanks to Joshua Malina.

Roger Ebert adapted to the Internet amazingly well, especially Twitter. Small compensation for losing the ability to speak, but it kept him vibrant. He was a champion fighting against the perils put upon him over the past several years, yet it only sharpened his already great writing ability. I miss my friend, even if we never met. Good night, you generous talented man. The balcony will be closed in your honor.

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He and Gene Siskel brought the art of film criticism to a broader audience, making it more accessible and arguably more relevant in the process. Thanks for this lovely tribute!
Lovely, Edward. Thanks for this.
glad you're still around, and thanks for this.
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