Roger Ebert

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Roger Ebert
Ebert in 2006
Ebert in 2006
BornRoger Joseph Ebert
(1942-06-18)June 18, 1942
Urbana, Illinois, U.S.
DiedApril 4, 2013(2013-04-04) (aged 70)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Occupation
  • Film critic
  • journalist
  • screenwriter
  • film historian
  • author
EducationUniversity of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (BA)
University of Cape Town
University of Chicago
SubjectFilm
Years active1967–2013
Notable works
Notable awardsPulitzer Prize for Criticism (1975)
Spouse
(m. 1992)
Signature
Website
rogerebert.com

Roger Joseph Ebert (/ˈbərt/ EE-burt; June 18, 1942 – April 4, 2013) was an American film critic, film historian, journalist, essayist, screenwriter, and author. He was a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. Ebert was known for his intimate, Midwestern writing voice and critical views informed by values of populism and humanism.[1] Writing in a prose style intended to be entertaining and direct, he made sophisticated cinematic and analytical ideas more accessible to non-specialist audiences.[2] Ebert frequently endorsed foreign and independent films he believed would be appreciated by mainstream viewers, which often resulted in such films receiving greater exposure.[3] In 1975, Ebert became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times said Ebert "was without question the nation's most prominent and influential film critic,"[4] and Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times called him "the best-known film critic in America."[5]

Early in his career Ebert co-wrote with Russ Meyer the film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). Starting in 1975 and continuing for decades, Ebert and Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel helped popularize nationally televised film reviewing when they co-hosted the PBS show Sneak Previews, followed by several variously named At the Movies programs on commercial TV broadcast syndication. The two verbally sparred and traded humorous barbs while discussing films. They created and trademarked the phrase "two thumbs up," used when both gave the same film a positive review. They regularly appeared on numerous talk shows together including Late Show with David Letterman. After Siskel died from a brain tumor in 1999, Ebert continued hosting the show with various co-hosts and then, starting in 2000, with Richard Roeper.

In the early 2000s, Ebert was diagnosed with cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands. He required treatment that included removing a section of his lower jaw in 2006, leaving him severely disfigured and unable to speak or eat normally. However, his ability to write remained unimpaired and he continued to publish frequently online and in print until his death in 2013. His RogerEbert.com website, launched in 2002, remains online as an archive of his published writings. Richard Corliss wrote that "Roger leaves a legacy of indefatigable conoisseurship in movies, literature, politics and, to quote the title of his 2011 autobiography, Life Itself."[6] In 2014, Life Itself was adapted as a documentary of the same title.

Early life and education[edit]

Roger Joseph Ebert[7] was born on June 18, 1942, in Urbana, Illinois, the only child of Annabel (née Stumm),[8] a bookkeeper,[4][9] and Walter Harry Ebert, an electrician.[10][11] He was raised Roman Catholic, attending St. Mary's elementary school and serving as an altar boy in Urbana.[11]

His paternal grandparents were German immigrants[12] and his maternal ancestry was Irish and Dutch.[9][13][14] Ebert's interest in journalism began when he was a student at Urbana High School, where he was a sportswriter for The News-Gazette in Champaign, Illinois; however, he began his writing career with letters of comment to the science-fiction fanzines of the era.[15] In his senior year, he was class president and co-editor of his high school newspaper, The Echo.[11][16] In 1958, he won the Illinois High School Association state speech championship in "radio speaking," an event that simulates radio newscasts.[17]

"I learned to be a movie critic by reading Mad magazine ... Mad's parodies made me aware of the machine inside the skin – of the way a movie might look original on the outside, while inside it was just recycling the same old dumb formulas. I did not read the magazine, I plundered it for clues to the universe. Pauline Kael lost it at the movies; I lost it at Mad magazine"

— Roger Ebert, Mad About the Movies (1998 parody collection)[18]

Ebert began taking classes at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign as an early-entrance student, completing his high school courses while also taking his first university class.[19] After graduating from Urbana High School in 1960,[20] Ebert then attended and received his undergraduate degree in 1964. While at the University of Illinois, Ebert worked as a reporter for The Daily Illini and then served as its editor during his senior year while also continuing to work as a reporter for the News-Gazette of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. (He had begun at the News-Gazette at age 15 covering Urbana High School sports.)[21]

His college mentor was Daniel Curley, who "introduced me to many of the cornerstones of my life's reading: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Crime and Punishment, Madame Bovary, The Ambassadors, Nostromo, The Professor's House, The Great Gatsby, The Sound and the Fury... He approached these works with undisguised admiration. We discussed patterns of symbolism, felicities of language, motivation, revelation of character. This was appreciation, not the savagery of deconstruction, which approaches literature as pliers do a rose."[22] Years later, Ebert coauthored The Perfect London Walk with Curley.[23] One of his classmates was Larry Woiwode, who went on to be the Poet Laureate of North Dakota. At The Daily Illini Ebert befriended William Nack, who as a sportswriter would cover Secretariat.[24] As an undergraduate, he was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and president of the United States Student Press Association.[25] One of the first movie reviews he ever wrote was of La Dolce Vita, published in The Daily Illini in October 1961.[26]

Ebert spent a semester as a master's student in the department of English there before attending the University of Cape Town on a Rotary fellowship for a year.[27] He returned from Cape Town to his graduate studies at Illinois for two more semesters and then, after being accepted as a PhD student at the University of Chicago, he prepared to move to Chicago. He needed a job to support himself while he worked on his doctorate and so applied to the Chicago Daily News, hoping that, as he had already sold freelance pieces to the Daily News, including an article on the death of writer Brendan Behan, he would be hired by editor Herman Kogan.[28]

Instead, Kogan referred Ebert to the city editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, Jim Hoge, who hired Ebert as a reporter and feature writer at the Sun-Times in 1966.[28] He attended doctoral classes at the University of Chicago while working as a general reporter at the Sun-Times for a year. After movie critic Eleanor Keane left the Sun-Times in April 1967, editor Robert Zonka gave the job to Ebert.[29] The load of graduate school and being a film critic proved too much, so Ebert left the University of Chicago to focus his energies on film criticism.[30]

Career[edit]

1967–1974: Early writings[edit]

A black and white photograph of two men in suits. The man on the right is wearing glasses.
Ebert (right) with Russ Meyer in 1970

Ebert began his career as a film critic in 1967, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times.[15] That same year, he met film critic Pauline Kael for the first time at the New York Film Festival. After he sent her some of his columns, she told him they were "the best film criticism being done in American newspapers today."[11] That same year, Ebert's first book, a history of the University of Illinois titled An Illini Century: One Hundred Years of Campus Life, was published by the university's press. In 1969, his review of Night of the Living Dead was published in Reader's Digest.[31] One of the first films he reviewed was Ingmar Bergman's Persona.[32] He told his editor he wasn't sure how to review it when he didn't feel he could explain it. His editor told him he didn't have to explain it, just describe it.[33]

He was one of the first critics to champion Bonnie and Clyde, calling it "a milestone in the history of American movies, a work of truth and brilliance. It is also pitilessly cruel, filled with sympathy, nauseating, funny, heartbreaking and astonishingly beautiful. If it does not seem that those words should be strung together, perhaps that is because movies do not very often reflect the full range of human life." He concluded: "The fact that the story is set 35 years ago doesn't mean a thing. It had to be set some time. But it was made now and it's about us."[34] Thirty-one years later, he wrote "When I saw it, I had been a film critic for less than six months, and it was the first masterpiece I had seen on the job. I felt an exhilaration beyond describing. I did not suspect how long it would be between such experiences, but at least I learned that they were possible."[35] He wrote Martin Scorsese's first review, for Who's That Knocking at My Door (then titled I Call First), and predicted the young director could become "an American Fellini."[36]

In addition to film, Ebert occasionally wrote about other topics for the Sun-Times, such as music. In 1970, Ebert wrote the first published concert review of singer-songwriter John Prine, who at the time was working as a mailman and performing at Chicago folk clubs.[37]

Ebert co-wrote the screenplay for the Russ Meyer film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) and sometimes joked about being responsible for the film, which was poorly received on its release yet has become a cult film.[38] Ebert and Meyer also made Up! (1976), Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979), and other films, and were involved in the ill-fated Sex Pistols movie Who Killed Bambi? In April 2010, Ebert posted his screenplay of Who Killed Bambi?, also known as Anarchy in the UK, on his blog.[39]

Beginning in 1968, Ebert worked for the University of Chicago as an adjunct lecturer, teaching a night class on film at the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies.[40] In 1975, Ebert received the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.[41] Around this time, he was offered jobs by multiple major newspapers, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, but he declined their offers, as he did not wish to leave Chicago.[42] In October 1986, while continuing to work for the Sun-Times and still based in Chicago, Ebert replaced Rex Reed as the New York Post's chief film critic.[43]

1975–1999: Stardom with Siskel & Ebert[edit]

Color photo of a man in a tuxedo.
Co-host Gene Siskel at the 1989 Academy Awards

In 1975, Ebert and Gene Siskel began co-hosting a weekly film-review television show, Sneak Previews, which was locally produced by the Chicago public broadcasting station WTTW.[44] The series was later picked up for national syndication on PBS.[44] The duo became well known for their "thumbs up/thumbs down" review summaries.[44][45] Siskel and Ebert trademarked the phrase "Two Thumbs Up."[44][46]

In 1982, they moved from PBS to launch a similar syndicated commercial television show, At the Movies With Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert.[44] In 1986, they again moved the show to new ownership, creating Siskel & Ebert & the Movies through Buena Vista Television, part of the Walt Disney Company.[44] Ebert and Siskel were known for their many appearances on late night talk shows, appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman sixteen times and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson fifteen times. On one of their appearances on Johnny Carson's show, comedian Chevy Chase, who was on the couch with them, mimicked Ebert behind his back while he was discussing Chase's new movie. They also appeared together on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Arsenio Hall Show, Howard Stern, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

In 1982, 1983, and 1985, Siskel and Ebert appeared as themselves on Saturday Night Live.[47][48] For their first two appearances, they reviewed sketches from that night's telecast and reviewed sketches from the "SNL Film Festival" for their last appearance.[49] In 1991, Siskel and Ebert appeared in the Sesame Street segment "Sneak Peek Previews" (a parody of Sneak Previews).[50] In it, they instruct the hosts Oscar the Grouch and Telly Monster on how their thumbs up/thumbs down rating system works.[50] Oscar asks if there could be a thumbs sideways ratings, and goads the two men into an argument about whether or not would be acceptable, as Ebert likes the idea, but Siskel does not.[50] The two were also seen that same year in the show's celebrity version of "Monster in the Mirror".[51] In 1995, Siskel and Ebert guest-starred on an episode of the animated sitcom The Critic. In the episode, a parody of Sleepless in Seattle, Siskel and Ebert split and each wants protagonist Jay Sherman, a fellow film critic, as his new partner.[52] The following year, Ebert appeared in Pitch, a documentary by Canadian filmmakers Spencer Rice and Kenny Hotz.[53] He made an appearance as himself in a 1997 episode of the Chicago-set television series Early Edition.[54] In the episode, Ebert consoles a young boy who is depressed after he sees the character Bosco the Bunny die in a movie.[55]

In 1997, Ebert "wrote to Nigel Wade, then the editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, and proposed a biweekly series of longer articles great movies of the past. He gave his blessing... Every other week I have revisited a great movie, and the response has been encouraging." The first film he wrote about for the series was Casablanca.[56] A hundred of these essays were published as The Great Movies (2002); he released two more volumes, and a fourth was published posthumously. For many years, on the day of the Academy Awards ceremony, Ebert appeared with Roeper on the live pre-awards show, An Evening at the Academy Awards: The Arrivals. This aired for over a decade, usually prior to the awards ceremony show, which also featured red carpet interviews and fashion commentary. They also appeared on the post-awards show entitled An Evening at the Academy Awards: The Winners, produced and aired by the ABC-owned KABC-TV in Los Angeles.[57] A "Mayor Ebert" appeared in the 1998 remake of Godzilla, played by Michael Lerner. In his pan of the film, Ebert wrote: "Now that I've inspired a character in a Godzilla movie, all I really still desire is for several Ingmar Bergman characters to sit in a circle and read my reviews to one another in hushed tones."[58] Ebert provided DVD audio commentaries for several films, including Citizen Kane (1941), Casablanca (1942), Crumb (1995), Dark City (1998), Floating Weeds (1959), and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). Ebert was also interviewed by Central Park Media for an extra feature on the DVD release of Grave of the Fireflies. In 1999, Ebert founded his own film festival, Ebertfest, in his hometown, Champaign, Illinois.[59]

In May 1998 Siskel took a leave of absence from the show to undergo brain surgery. He returned to the show although viewers noticed a change in his physical appearance. Despite appearing sluggish and tired, Siskel continued reviewing films with Ebert and would appear on Late Show with David Letterman. In February 1999, Siskel died of a brain tumor.[60][61] The producers renamed the show Roger Ebert & the Movies and used rotating co-hosts including Martin Scorsese,[62] A.O. Scott,[63] and Janet Maslin.[64] Ebert wrote of his late colleague: "For the first five years that we knew one another, Gene Siskel and I hardly spoke. Then it seemed like we never stopped." He wrote of Siskel's work ethic, of how quickly he returned to work after surgery: "Someone else might have taken a leave of absence then and there, but Gene worked as long as he could. Being a film critic was important to him. He liked to refer to his job as 'the national dream beat,' and say that in reviewing movies he was covering what people hoped for, dreamed about, and feared."[65] Ten years after Siskel's death, Ebert blogged about his colleague: "We once spoke with Disney and CBS about a sitcom to be titled Best Enemies. It would be about two movie critics joined in a love/hate relationship. It never went anywhere, but we both believed it was a good idea. Maybe the problem was that no one else could possibly understand how meaningless was the hate, how deep was the love."[66]

2000–2006: Ebert & Roeper[edit]

In September 2000, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper became the permanent co-host and the show was renamed At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper and later At the Movies.[67] In 2000, Ebert interviewed President Bill Clinton at The White House. Clinton spoke about his love for the movies, his favorite films of 1999, and his favorite films of all time, such as Casablanca (1942), High Noon (1952) and The Ten Commandments (1956). Clinton named Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, and Tom Hanks as his favorite actors.[68]

In 2003, Ebert made a cameo appearance in the film Abby Singer.[69] In 2005, Ebert became the first film critic to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[41] In 2004, Ebert appeared in the Sesame Street franchise's direct-to-video special A Celebration of Me, Grover, delivering a review of the Monsterpiece Theater segment of "The King and I".[70]

2007–2013: RogerEbert.com[edit]

Ebert ended his association with the Disney-owned At The Movies in July 2008,[46] after the studio indicated it wished to take the program in a new direction. As of 2007, his reviews were syndicated to more than 200 newspapers in the United States and abroad.[71] Ebert also published more than 20 books and dozens of collected reviews. His RogerEbert.com website, launched in 2002 and originally underwritten by the Chicago Sun-Times,[72] remains online as an archive of his published writings and reviews while also hosting new material written by a group of critics who were selected by Ebert before his death. Even as he used TV (and later the Internet) to share his reviews, Ebert continued to write for the Chicago Sun-Times until he died in 2013.[73] On February 18, 2009, Ebert reported that he and Roeper would soon announce a new movie-review program,[74] and reiterated this plan after Disney announced that the program's last episode would air in August 2010.[75][76]

Ebert was one of the principal critics featured in Gerald Peary's 2009 documentary For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism. He discusses the dynamics of appearing with Gene Siskel on the 1970s show Coming to a Theatre Near You, which was the predecessor of Sneak Previews on Chicago PBS station WTTW and expresses approval of the proliferation of young people writing film reviews today on the internet.[77] On May 4, 2010, Ebert was announced by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences as the Webby Person of the Year, having found a voice on the Internet following his battle with cancer.[78] On October 22, 2010, Ebert appeared with Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies during their "The Essentials" series. Ebert selected the films Sweet Smell of Success and The Lady Eve.[79]

On January 31, 2009, Ebert was made an honorary life member of the Directors Guild of America.[80] His final television series, Ebert Presents: At the Movies, premiered on January 21, 2011, with Ebert contributing a review voiced by Bill Kurtis in a brief segment called "Roger's Office,"[81] as well as a more traditional film reviews in the "At the Movies" format presented by Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.[82] The program lasted one season, before being cancelled due to funding constraints.[83][84] The last review by Ebert published during his lifetime was for the film The Host, which was published on March 27, 2013.[85][86] The last review Ebert wrote was for To the Wonder, which he gave 3.5 out of 4 stars in a review for the Chicago Sun-Times. It was posthumously published on April 6, 2013.[87] In July 2013, a previously unpublished review of the film Computer Chess appeared on Ebert's website.[88] The review had been written in March but had remained unpublished until the film's wide-release date.[89] Matt Zoller Seitz, the editor of Ebert's website, confirmed that there were other unpublished reviews that would eventually be posted.[89] A second review, for The Spectacular Now, was published in August 2013.[90]

A biographical documentary about Ebert, Life Itself (2014) directed by Steve James, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.[91][92] The film was executive produced by Martin Scorsese and includes interviews with Scorsese, Ava DuVernay, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, and numerous critics. The film received critical acclaim and received numerous accolades including a Emmy Award, Producers Guild of America Award, and Critics' Choice Movie Award.

Critical style[edit]

Ebert cited Pauline Kael as an influence

Ebert cited Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael as influences, and often quoted Robert Warshow, who said: "A man goes to the movies. A critic must be honest enough to admit he is that man."[93] He tried to judge a movie on its style rather than its content, and often said "It's not what a movie is about, it's how it's about what it's about."[94][95] He awarded four stars to films of the highest quality, and generally a half star to those of the lowest, unless he considered the film to be "artistically inept and morally repugnant", in which case it received no stars, as with Death Wish II.[96] He explained that his star ratings had little meaning outside the context of the review:

When you ask a friend if Hellboy is any good, you're not asking if it's any good compared to Mystic River, you're asking if it's any good compared to The Punisher. And my answer would be, on a scale of one to four, if Superman is four, then Hellboy is three and The Punisher is two. In the same way, if American Beauty gets four stars, then The United States of Leland clocks in at about two.[97]

Metacritic later noted that Ebert tended to give more lenient ratings than most critics. His average film rating was 71%, if translated into a percentage, compared to 59% for the site as a whole. Of his reviews, 75% were positive and 75% of his ratings were better than his colleagues.[98] Ebert had acknowledged in 2008 that he gave higher ratings on average than other critics, though he said this was in part because he considered a rating of 3 out of 4 stars to be the general threshold for a film to get a "thumbs up."[99]

Although Ebert rarely wrote outright-scathing reviews, he had a reputation for writing memorable ones for the films he really hated, such as North.[100] Of that film, he wrote "I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."[101] A collection of his pans was published as I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie.[102]

He wrote that Mad Dog Time "is the first movie I have seen that does not improve on the sight of a blank screen viewed for the same length of time. Oh, I've seen bad movies before. But they usually made me care about how bad they were. Watching Mad Dog Time is like waiting for the bus in a city where you're not sure they have a bus line" and concluded that the film "should be cut up to provide free ukulele picks for the poor."[103] Of Caligula, he wrote "It is not good art, it is not good cinema, and it is not good porn" and approvingly quoted the woman in front of him at the drinking fountain, who called it "the worst piece of shit I have ever seen."[104]

Ebert's reviews were also characterized by what has been called "dry wit."[4][105] He often wrote in a deadpan style when discussing a movie's flaws; in his review of Jaws: The Revenge, he wrote that Mrs. Brody's "friends pooh-pooh the notion that a shark could identify, follow or even care about one individual human being, but I am willing to grant the point, for the benefit of the plot. I believe that the shark wants revenge against Mrs. Brody. I do. I really do believe it. After all, her husband was one of the men who hunted this shark and killed it, blowing it to bits. And what shark wouldn't want revenge against the survivors of the men who killed it? Here are some things, however, that I do not believe" and went on to list the other ways the film strained credulity.[106]

"[Ebert's prose] had a plain-spoken Midwestern clarity...a genial, conversational presence on the page...his criticism shows a nearly unequaled grasp of film history and technique, and formidable intellectual range, but he rarely seems to be showing off. He's just trying to tell you what he thinks, and to provoke some thought on your part about how movies work and what they can do".

A.O. Scott, film critic for The New York Times[107]

In August 2005 Rob Schneider insulted Los Angeles Times critic Patrick Goldstein, saying that Goldstein was unqualified to review Schneider's Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo as he had not won the Pulitzer Prize. Ebert concluded his review: "As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and am so qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks."[108] He later used this phrase as a title for another collection of his pans.[109] After Ebert's illness, Schneider sent him flowers, signed "Your Least Favorite Movie Star." Ebert wrote that while Schneider made a bad film, he was not a bad man, and would be happy to give him a good review some day.[110][111]

Ebert often included personal anecdotes in his reviews; in his review of The Last Picture Show, he recalls his early days as a moviegoer: "For five or six years of my life (the years between when I was old enough to go alone, and when TV came to town) Saturday afternoon at the Princess was a descent into a dark magical cave that smelled of Jujubes, melted Dreamsicles and Crisco in the popcorn machine. It was probably on one of those Saturday afternoons that I formed my first critical opinion, deciding vaguely that there was something about John Wayne that that set him apart from ordinary cowboys."[112] He occasionally wrote reviews in the forms of stories, poems, songs,[113] scripts, open letters,[114][115] or imagined conversations.[116]

Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, wrote of how Ebert had influenced his writing: "I noticed how much Ebert could put across in a limited space. He didn't waste time clearing his throat. 'They meet for the first time when she is in her front yard practicing baton-twirling,' begins his review of Badlands. Often, he managed to smuggle the basics of the plot into a larger thesis about the movie, so that you don't notice the exposition taking place: 'Broadcast News is as knowledgeable about the TV news-gathering process as any movie ever made, but it also has insights into the more personal matter of how people use high-pressure jobs as a way of avoiding time alone with themselves.' The reviews start off in all different ways, sometimes with personal confessions, sometimes with sweeping statements. One way or another, he pulls you in. When he feels strongly, he can bang his fist in an impressive way. His review of Apocalypse Now ends thus: 'The whole huge grand mystery of the world, so terrible, so beautiful, seems to hang in the balance.'"[117]

In his introduction to The Great Movies III, he wrote:

People often ask me, 'Do you ever change your mind about a movie?' Hardly ever, although I may refine my opinion. Among the films here, I've changed on The Godfather Part II and Blade Runner. My original review of Part II puts me in mind of the 'brain cloud' that besets Tom Hanks in Joe Versus the Volcano. I was simply wrong. In the case of Blade Runner, I think the director's cut by Ridley Scott simply plays much better. I also turned around on Groundhog Day, which made it into this book when I belatedly caught on that it wasn't about the weatherman's predicament but about the nature of time and will. Perhaps when I first saw it I allowed myself to be distracted by Bill Murray's mainstream comedy reputation. But someone in film school somewhere is probably even now writing a thesis about how Murray's famous cameos represent an injection of philosophy into those pictures.[118]

In the first Great Movies, he wrote:

Movies do not change, but their viewers do. When I first saw La Dolce Vita in 1961, I was an adolescent for whom 'the sweet life' represented everything I dreamed of: sin, exotic European glamour, the weary romance of the cynical newspaperman. When I saw it again, around 1970, I was living in a version of Marcello's world; Chicago's North Avenue was not the Via Veneto, but at 3 A. M. the denizens were just as colorful, and I was about Marcello's age.

When I saw the movie around 1980, Marcello was the same age, but I was ten years older, had stopped drinking, and saw him not as role model, but as a victim, condemned to an endless search for happiness that could never be found, not that way. By 1991, when I analyzed the film a frame at a time at the University of Colorado, Marcello seemed younger still, and while I had once admired and then criticized him, now I pitied and loved him. And when I saw the movie right after Mastroianni died, I thought that Fellini and Marcello had taken a moment of discovery and made it immortal. There may be no such thing as the sweet life. But it is necessary to find that out for yourself.[119]

Preferences[edit]

Favorites[edit]

In an essay looking back at his first twenty-five years as a film critic, Ebert wrote:

If I had to make a generalization, I would say that many of my favorite movies are about good people... Casablanca is about people who do the right thing. The Third Man is about people who do the right thing and can never speak to one another as a result... Not all good movies are about good people. I also like movies about bad people who have a sense of humor. Orson Welles, who does not play either of the good people in The Third Man, has such a winning way, such witty dialogue, that for a scene or two we almost forgive him his crimes. Henry Hill, the hero of Goodfellas, is not a good fella, but he has the ability to be honest with us about why he enjoyed being bad. He is not a hypocrite. Of the other movies I love, some are simply about the joy of physical movement. When Gene Kelly splashes through Singin' in the Rain, when Judy Garland follows the yellow brick road, when Fred Astaire dances on the ceiling, when John Wayne puts the reins in his teeth and gallops across the mountain meadow, there is a purity and joy that cannot be resisted. In Equinox Flower, a Japanese film by the old master Yasujiro Ozu, there is this sequence of shots: A room with a red teapot in the foreground. Another view of the room. The mother folding clothes. A shot down a corridor with a mother crossing it at an angle, and then a daughter crossing at the back. A reverse shot in the hallway as the arriving father is greeted by the mother and daughter. A shot as the father leaves the frame, then the mother, then the daughter. A shot as the mother and father enter the room, as in the background the daughter picks up the red pot and leaves the frame. This sequence of timed movement and cutting is as perfect as any music ever written, any dance, any poem.[120]

Ebert argued for the aesthetic values of black-and-white photography and against colorization, writing:

Black-and-white movies present the deliberate absence of color. This makes them less realistic than color films (for the real world is in color). They are more dreamlike, more pure, composed of shapes and forms and movements and light and shadow. Color films can simply be illuminated. Black-and-white films have to be lighted... Black and white is a legitimate and beautiful artistic choice in motion pictures, creating feelings and effects that cannot be obtained any other way.[121]

Elsewhere, Ebert wrote that "Black and white (or, more accurately, silver and white) creates a mysterious dream state, a world of form and gesture." For readers who didn't appreciate black and white, he offered the following experiment: "Go outside at dusk, when the daylight is diffused. Stand on the side of the house away from the sunset. Shoot some natural-light portraits of a friend in black and white. Ask yourself if this friend, who has always looked ordinary in every color photograph you've ever taken, does not, in black and white, take on an aura of mystery. The same thing happens in the movies."[120]

Ebert championed animation, particularly the films of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.[122] In his review of Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke, he wrote: "I go to the movies for many reasons. Here is one of them. I want to see wondrous sights not available in the real world, in stories where myth and dreams are set free to play. Animation opens that possibility, because it is freed from gravity and the chains of the possible. Realistic films show the physical world; animation shows its essence. Animated films are not copies of 'real movies,' are not shadows of reality, but create a new existence in their own right."[123] He concluded his review of Ratatouille by writing: "Every time an animated film is successful, you have to read all over again about how animation isn't 'just for children' but 'for the whole family,' and 'even for adults going on their own.' No kidding!"[124]

Ebert championed documentaries, notably Errol Morris's Gates of Heaven: "They say you can make a great documentary about anything, as long as you see it well enough and truly, and this film proves it. Gates of Heaven, which has no connection to the unfortunate Heaven's Gate, is about a couple of pet cemeteries and their owners. It was filmed in Southern California, so of course we expect a sardonic look at the peculiarities of the Moonbeam State. But then Gates of Heaven grows ever so much more complex and frightening, until at the end it is about such large issues as love, immortality, failure, and the dogged elusiveness of the American Dream."[125] Morris credited Ebert's review with putting him on the map.[126] He championed Michael Apted's Up films, calling them "an inspired, even noble use of the medium."[127] Ebert concluded his review of Hoop Dreams by writing: "Many filmgoers are reluctant to see documentaries, for reasons I've never understood; the good ones are frequently more absorbing and entertaining than fiction. Hoop Dreams, however, is not only documentary. It is also poetry and prose, muckraking and expose, journalism and polemic. It is one of the great moviegoing experiences of my lifetime."[128]

If a movie can illuminate the lives of other people who share this planet with us and show us not only how different they are but, how even so, they share the same dreams and hurts, then it deserves to be called great.

— Ebert, 1986[129]

Ebert said that his favorite film was Citizen Kane, joking, "That's the official answer," although he preferred to emphasize it as "the most important" film. He said seeing The Third Man cemented his love of cinema: "This movie is on the altar of my love for the cinema. I saw it for the first time in a little fleabox of a theater on the Left Bank in Paris, in 1962, during my first $5 a day trip to Europe. It was so sad, so beautiful, so romantic, that it became at once a part of my own memories -- as if it had happened to me."[130] He implied that his real favorite film was La Dolce Vita.[131]

His favorite actor was Robert Mitchum, and his favorite actress was Ingrid Bergman.[132] He named Buster Keaton, Yasujiro Ozu, Robert Altman, Werner Herzog, and Martin Scorsese as his favorite directors.[133] He expressed his distaste for "top-10" lists, and all movie lists in general, but did make an annual list of the years best films, joking that film critics are "required by unwritten law" to do so. He also contributed an all-time top-10 list for the decennial Sight & Sound Critics' poll in 1982, 1992, 2002 and 2012. In 2012 he chose, alphabetically, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Apocalypse Now, Citizen Kane, La Dolce Vita, The General, Raging Bull, Tokyo Story, The Tree of Life and Vertigo.[134]

His favorite Bond film was Goldfinger (1964), and he later added it to his "Great Movies" list.[135] Several of the contributors to Ebert's website participated in a video tribute to him, featuring films that made his Sight & Sound list in 1982 and 2012.[136]

Best films of the year[edit]

Ebert made annual "ten best lists" from 1967 to 2012. His choices for best film of the year were:

Ebert revisited and sometimes revised his opinions. After ranking E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial third on his 1982 list, it was the only movie from that year to appear on his later "Best Films of the 1980s" list (where it also ranked third).[137] He made similar reevaluations of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Ran (1985).[137] Three Colours trilogy (Blue (1993), White (1994), and Red (also 1994)), and Pulp Fiction (1994) originally ranked second and third on Ebert's 1994 list; both were included on his "Best Films of the 1990s" list, but their order had reversed.[138]

In 2006, Ebert noted his own "tendency to place what I now consider the year's best film in second place, perhaps because I was trying to make some kind of point with my top pick,"[139] adding, "In 1968, I should have ranked 2001 above The Battle of Algiers. In 1971, McCabe & Mrs. Miller was better than The Last Picture Show. In 1974, Chinatown was probably better, in a different way, than Scenes from a Marriage. In 1976, how could I rank Small Change above Taxi Driver? In 1978, I would put Days of Heaven above An Unmarried Woman. And in 1980, of course, Raging Bull was a better film than The Black Stallion ... although I later chose Raging Bull as the best film of the entire decade of the 1980s, it was only the second-best film of 1980 ... am I the same person I was in 1968, 1971, or 1980? I hope not."

Best films of the decade[edit]

Ebert compiled "best of the decade" movie lists in the 2000s for the 1970s to the 2000s, thereby helping provide an overview of his critical preferences. Only three films for this listing were named by Ebert as the best film of the year, Five Easy Pieces (1970), Hoop Dreams (1994), and Synecdoche, New York (2008).

Genres and content[edit]

Ebert was often critical of the Motion Picture Association of America film rating system (MPAA). His main arguments were that they were too strict on sex and profanity, too lenient on violence, secretive with their guidelines, inconsistent in applying them and not willing to consider the wider context and meaning of the film.[144][145] He advocated replacing the NC-17 rating with separate ratings for pornographic and nonpornographic adult films.[144] He praised This Film is Not Yet Rated, a documentary critiquing the MPAA, adding that their rules are "Kafkaesque."[146] He signed off on his review of Almost Famous by asking, "Why did they give an R rating to a movie so perfect for teenagers?"[147]

Ebert also frequently lamented that cinemas outside major cities are "booked by computer from Hollywood with no regard for local tastes," making high-quality independent and foreign films virtually unavailable to most American moviegoers.[148]

In his review of The Exorcist, he wrote that "I've always preferred generic approach to film criticism; I ask myself how good a movie is of its type."[149] He gave Halloween four stars: "Seeing it, I was reminded of the favorable review I gave a few years ago to Last House on the Left, another really terrifying thriller. Readers wrote to ask how I could possibly support such a movie. But I wasn't supporting it so much as describing it: You don't want to be scared? Don't see it. Credit must be paid to directors who want to really frighten us, to make a good thriller when quite possibly a bad one would have made as much money. Hitchcock is acknowledged as a master of suspense; it's hypocrisy to disapprove of other directors in the same genre who want to scare us too."[150]

Ebert did not believe in grading children's movies on a curve, as he thought children were smarter than given credit for and deserved quality entertainment. He began his review of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: "Kids are not stupid. They are among the sharpest, cleverest, most eagle-eyed creatures on God's green Earth, and very little escapes their notice. You may not have observed that your neighbor is still using his snow-tires in mid-July, but every four-year-old on the block has, and kids pay the same attention when they go to the movies. They don't miss a thing, and have an instinctive contempt for shoddy and shabby work. I make this observation because nine out of ten kids' movies are stupid, witless and display contempt for their audiences. Is that all parents want from kids' movies? That they not have anything bad in them? Shouldn't they have something good in them-- some life, imagination, fantasy, inventiveness, something to tickle the imagination? If a movie isn't going to do your kids any good, why let them watch it? Just to kill a Saturday afternoon? That shows a subtle contempt for a child's mind, I think." He went on to say he thought Willy Wonka was the best movie of its kind since The Wizard of Oz.[151]

Ebert accused some films of having an unwholesome political agenda, asserting that Dirty Harry (1971) had a fascist moral position.[152] He was wary of films passed off as art, which he saw as lurid and sensational. He leveled this charge against such films as The Night Porter (1974).[153] Ebert commented on films using his Catholic upbringing as a point of reference,[11] and was critical of films he believed were grossly ignorant of or insulting to Catholicism, such as Stigmata (1999)[154] and Priest (1994).[155] He also gave favorable reviews of controversial films relating to Jesus Christ or Catholicism, including The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Passion of the Christ (2004), and Kevin Smith's religious satire Dogma (1999).[156]

Contrarian reviews[edit]

Writing in an online magazine Hazlitt about Ebert's reviews, Will Sloan argued that "[t]here were inevitably movies where he veered from consensus, but he was not provocative or idiosyncratic by nature."[157] Examples of Ebert dissenting from other critics include his negative reviews of such celebrated films as Blue Velvet ("marred by sophomoric satire and cheap shots"),[158] A Clockwork Orange ("a paranoid right-wing fantasy masquerading as an Orwellian warning"),[159] and The Usual Suspects ("To the degree that I do understand, I don't care").[160] He gave only two out of four stars to the widely acclaimed Brazil, calling it "very hard to follow"[161] and is the only critic on RottenTomatoes to not like it.[162]

He gave a one-star review to the critically acclaimed Abbas Kiarostami film Taste of Cherry, which won the Palme d'Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.[163] Ebert later added the film to a list of his most-hated movies of all time.[164] He was dismissive of the 1988 Bruce Willis action film Die Hard, stating that "inappropriate and wrongheaded interruptions reveal the fragile nature of the plot".[165] His positive 3 out of 4 stars review of 1997's Speed 2: Cruise Control, "Movies like this embrace goofiness with an almost sensual pleasure"[166] is one of only three positive reviews accounting for that film's 4% approval rating on the reviewer aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, one of the two others having been written by his At the Movies co-star Gene Siskel.[167]

Ebert reflected on his Speed 2 review in 2013, and wrote that it was "Frequently cited as an example of what a lousy critic I am," but defended his opinion, and noted, "I'm grateful to movies that show me what I haven't seen before, and Speed 2 had a cruise ship plowing right up the main street of a Caribbean village."[168] In 1999, Ebert held a contest for University of Colorado Boulder students to create short films with a Speed 3 theme about an object that could not stop moving.[168] The winning entrant was set on a roller coaster and was screened at Ebertfest that year.[168]

Other interests[edit]

Ebert was an admirer of Werner Herzog, and conducted a Q&A session with him at the Walker Arts Center in 1999. It was there that Herzog read his "Minnesota Declaration" which defined his idea of "ecstatic truth."[169] Herzog dedicated his Encounters at the End of the World to Ebert, and Ebert responded with an open letter of gratitude.[170] Ebert often quoted something Herzog told him: "our civilization is starving for new images."[171] Herzog said he once exhorted Ebert to watch the television reality sitcom The Anna Nicole Show, featuring the former Playboy Playmate, so he could gain a better understanding of the decline in American culture. Ebert watched it.[172]

Ebert was a lifelong reader, and said he had "more or less every book I have owned since I was seven, starting with Huckleberry Finn." Among the authors he considered indispensable were Shakespeare, Henry James, Willa Cather, Colette and Simenon.[173] He writes of his friend William Nack: "He approached literature like a gourmet. He relished it, savored it, inhaled it, and after memorizing it rolled it on his tongue and spoke it aloud. It was Nack who already knew in the early 1960s, when he was a very young man, that Nabokov was perhaps the supreme stylist of modern novelists. He recited to me from Lolita, and from Speak, Memory and Pnin. I was spellbound." Every time Ebert saw Nack, he'd ask him to recite the last lines of The Great Gatsby.[174] Reviewing Stone Reader, he wrote: "get me in conversation with another reader, and I'll recite titles, too. Have you ever read The Quincunx? The Raj Quartet? A Fine Balance? Ever heard of that most despairing of all travel books, The Saddest Pleasure, by Moritz Thomsen? Does anybody hold up better than Joseph Conrad and Willa Cather? Know any Yeats by heart? Surely P. G. Wodehouse is as great at what he does as Shakespeare was at what he did."[175] Among then-living authors he admired Cormac McCarthy, and credited Suttree with reviving his love of reading after his illness.[176] He also loved audiobooks, particularly praising Sean Barrett's reading of Perfume.[177] He was a fan of Herge's The Adventures of Tintin, which he read in French.[178]

Ebert was also an advocate and supporter of Asian-American cinema, famously coming to the defense of the cast and crew of Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow (2002) during a Sundance Film Festival screening when a white member of the audience asked how Asians could be portrayed in such a negative light and how a film so empty and amoral could be made for Asian-Americans and Americans. Ebert responded that "What I find very offensive and condescending about your statement is nobody would say to a bunch of white filmmakers, ‘How could you do this to 'your people'?...Asian-American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be. They do not have to represent 'their people'!"[179][180][181] He was a supporter of the film after the incident at Sundance, and also supported a number of Asian-American films, such as Eric Byler's Charlotte Sometimes and screened them at his film festival.[182]

Ebert first visited London in 1966 with his professor Daniel Curley, who "started me on a lifelong practice of wandering around London. From 1966 to 2006, I visited London never less than once a year and usually more than that. Walking the city became a part of my education, and in this way I learned a little about architecture, British watercolors, music, theater and above all people. I felt a freedom in London I've never felt elsewhere. I made lasting friends. The city lends itself to walking, can be intensely exciting at eye level, and is being eaten alive block by bloc by brutal corporate leg-lifting." Ebert and Curley coauthored The Perfect London Walk.[183] In his review of Ghost World, Ebert wrote "There's a small tomb in Southwark Cathedral that I like to visit when I am in London. It contains the bones of a teenage girl who died three centuries ago. I know the inscription by heart: 'The world to her/ Was but a tragic play./ She came, saw, dislik'd/ And passed away.'"[184]

Ebert attended the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado Boulder for many years, where he hosted a program called Cinemus Interruptus. He would analyze a film with an audience, and anyone could say "Stop!" to point out something they found interesting. He wrote "Boulder is my hometown in an alternate universe. I have walked its streets by and night, in rain, snow, and sunshine. I have made lie-long friends there. I was in my twenties when I first came to the Conference on World Affairs and was greeted by Howard Higman, its choleric founder, with 'Who invited you back?' Since then I have appeared on countless panels panels where I have learned and rehearsed debatemanship, the art of talking to anybody about anything." In 2009, Ebert invited Ramin Bahrani to join him in analyzing Bahrani's film Chop Shop a frame at a time. The next year, they invited Werner Herzog to join them in analyzing Aguirre, the Wrath of God. After that, Ebert announced that he would not return to the conference: "It is fueled by speech, and I'm out of gas... But I went there for my adult lifetime and had a hell of a good time."[185]

Views on technology[edit]

Ebert was a strong advocate for Maxivision 48, in which the movie projector runs at 48 frames per second, as compared to the usual 24 frames per second. He was opposed to the practice whereby theaters lower the intensity of their projector bulbs in order to extend the life of the bulb, arguing that this has little effect other than to make the film harder to see.[186] Ebert was skeptical of the resurgence of 3D effects in film, which he found unrealistic and distracting.[187]

In 2005, Ebert opined that video games are not art, and are inferior to media created through authorial control, such as film and literature, stating, "video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful," but "the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art."[188] This resulted in negative reaction from video game enthusiasts,[189] such as writer Clive Barker, who defended video games as an art form. Ebert wrote a further piece in response to Barker.[190] Ebert maintained his position in 2010, but conceded that he should not have expressed this skepticism without being more familiar with the actual experience of playing them. He admitted that he barely played video games: "I have played Cosmology of Kyoto which I enormously enjoyed, and Myst for which I lacked the patience."[191] In the article, Ebert wrote, "It is quite possible a game could someday be great art."[191]

Ebert had reviewed Cosmology of Kyoto for Wired in 1994, and had praised the exploration, depth, and graphics found in the game, writing "This is the most beguiling computer game I have encountered, a seamless blend of information, adventure, humor, and imagination - the gruesome side-by-side with the divine."[192] Ebert filed one other video game-related article for Wired in 1994, in which he described his visit to Sega's Joypolis arcade in Tokyo.[193]

Personal life[edit]

Three people are smiling with Hawaiian leis around their necks.
Ebert and his wife Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert (left) giving the thumbs up to Nancy Kwan (right) at the Hawaii International Film Festival

Marriage[edit]

At age 50, Ebert married trial attorney Charlie "Chaz" Hammel-Smith[194][195] in 1992.[11][196][197][198] Chaz Ebert became vice president of the Ebert Company and has emceed Ebertfest.[199][200][201] He explained in his memoir, Life Itself, that he did not want to marry before his mother died, as he was afraid of displeasing her.[202] In a July 2012 blog entry, Ebert wrote about Chaz, "She fills my horizon, she is the great fact of my life, she has my love, she saved me from the fate of living out my life alone, which is where I seemed to be heading... She has been with me in sickness and in health, certainly far more sickness than we could have anticipated. I will be with her, strengthened by her example. She continues to make my life possible, and her presence fills me with love and a deep security. That's what a marriage is for. Now I know."[203]

Alcoholism recovery[edit]

Ebert was a recovering alcoholic, having quit drinking in 1979. He was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and had written some blog entries on the subject.[204] Ebert was a longtime friend of Oprah Winfrey, and Winfrey credited him with persuading her to syndicate The Oprah Winfrey Show,[205] which became the highest-rated talk show in American television history.[206]

Politics[edit]

A supporter of the Democratic Party,[207] Ebert publicly urged leftist filmmaker Michael Moore to give a politically charged acceptance speech at the Academy Awards: "I'd like to see Michael Moore get up there and let 'em have it with both barrels and really let loose and give them a real rabble-rousing speech."[208] During a 1996 panel at the University of Colorado Boulder's Conference on World Affairs, Ebert coined the Boulder Pledge, by which he vowed never to purchase anything offered through the result of an unsolicited email message, or to forward chain emails or mass emails to others.[209][210][211]

Ebert endorsed Barack Obama for re-election as president in 2012, citing the Affordable Care Act as one important reason for his support of Obama.[212] He was also sympathetic to Ron Paul, noting that he "speaks directly and clearly without a lot of hot air and lip flap".[213] During a review of the 2008 documentary I.O.U.S.A., he credited Paul with being "a lonely voice talking about the debt", proposing based on the film that the US government was "already broke".[214]

Beliefs[edit]

Ebert was critical of intelligent design,[215] and stated that people who believe in either creationism or New Age beliefs such as crystal healing or astrology should not be president.[216] Ebert expressed disbelief in supernatural claims in general, calling them "woo-woo,"[217] though he argued that reincarnation is possible from a "scientific, rationalist point of view."[218]

Ebert described himself as an agnostic on at least one occasion,[11] but at other times explicitly rejected that designation; biographer Matt Singer wrote that Ebert opposed any categorization of his beliefs.[219] In 2009, Ebert wrote that he did not "want [his] convictions reduced to a word," and stated, "I have never said, although readers have freely informed me I am an atheist, an agnostic, or at the very least a secular humanist – which I am."[220] He wrote of his Catholic upbringing: "I believed in the basic Church teachings because I thought they were correct, not because God wanted me to. In my mind, in the way I interpret them, I still live by them today. Not by the rules and regulations, but by the principles. For example, in the matter of abortion, I am pro-choice, but my personal choice would be to have nothing to do with an abortion, certainly not of a child of my own. I believe in free will, and believe I have no right to tell anyone else what to do. Above all, the state does not." He wrote "I am not a believer, not an atheist, not an agnostic. I am still awake at night, asking how?[a] I am more content with the question than I would be with an answer."[220]

He wrote that "I drank for many years in a tavern that had a photograph of Brendan Behan on the wall, and under it is this quotation, which I memorized: 'I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don't respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything concerned with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and the old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.' For 57 words, that does a pretty good job of summing it up."[221] Summarizing his beliefs, Ebert wrote:

I believe that if, at the end of it all, 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.[222]

Health[edit]

An image of a woman in a red dress speaking with a man, both sitting down.
Ebert (right) at the Conference on World Affairs in September 2002, shortly after his cancer diagnosis

In February 2002, Ebert was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer which was successfully removed.[223] In 2003, he underwent surgery for salivary gland cancer, which was followed up by radiation therapy. He was again diagnosed with cancer in 2006. In June of that year, he had a mandibulectomy to remove cancerous tissue in the right side of his jaw.[224] A week later he had a life-threatening complication when his carotid artery burst near the surgery site.[225] He was confined to bed rest and was unable to speak, eat, or drink for a time, necessitating the use of a feeding tube.[226]

The complications kept Ebert off the air for an extended period. Ebert made his first public appearance since mid-2006 at Ebertfest on April 25, 2007. He was unable to speak, instead communicating through his wife.[227] He returned to reviewing on May 18, 2007, when three of his reviews were published in print.[228] In July 2007, he revealed that he was still unable to speak.[229] Ebert adopted a computerized voice system to communicate, eventually using a copy of his own voice created from his recordings by CereProc.[230]

In February 2010, Chris Jones wrote a lengthy profile of Ebert and his health in Esquire.[231] In March 2010, his health trials and new computerized voice were featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show.[232][233] In 2011, Ebert gave a TED talk assisted by his wife, Chaz, and friends Dean Ornish and John Hunter, called "Remaking my voice".[234] In it, he proposed a test to determine the realism of a synthesized voice.[235]

Ebert underwent further surgery in January 2008 to try to restore his voice and address the complications from his previous surgeries.[236][237] On April 1, Ebert announced his speech had not been restored.[238] Ebert underwent further surgery in April 2008 after fracturing his hip in a fall.[239] By 2011, Ebert had a prosthetic chin made to hide some of the damage done by his many surgeries.[240]

In December 2012, Ebert was hospitalized due to the fractured hip,[241] which was subsequently determined to be the result of cancer.[242]

Writing about his loss of eating, Ebert said:

The loss of dining, not the loss of food. It may be personal, but for me, unless I'm alone, it doesn't involve dinner if it doesn't involve talking. The food and drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments and shared memories I miss. Sentences beginning with the words, "Remember that time?" I ran in crowds where anyone was likely to break out in a poetry recitation at any time. Me too. But not me anymore. So yes, it's sad. Maybe that's why I enjoy this blog. You don't realize it, but we're at dinner right now.[243]

Death and legacy[edit]

On April 4, 2013, Ebert died at age 70 at a hospital in Chicago, shortly before he was set to return to his home and enter hospice care.[4][244][245][246]

President Barack Obama wrote, "For a generation of Americans – and especially Chicagoans – Roger was the movies... [he could capture] the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical. ... The movies won't be the same without Roger."[247] Martin Scorsese released a statement saying, "The death of Roger Ebert is an incalculable loss for movie culture and for film criticism. And it's a loss for me personally... there was a professional distance between us, but then I could talk to him much more freely than I could to other critics. Really, Roger was my friend. It's that simple."[248]

Steven Spielberg stated that Ebert's "reviews went far deeper than simply thumbs up or thumbs down. He wrote with passion through a real knowledge of film and film history, and in doing so, helped many movies find their audiences... [He] put television criticism on the map."[249] Numerous celebrities paid tribute including Christopher Nolan, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Martin, Albert Brooks, Jason Reitman, Ron Howard, Darren Aronofsky, Larry King, Cameron Crowe, Werner Herzog, Howard Stern, Steve Carell, Stephen Fry, Diablo Cody, Anna Kendrick, Jimmy Kimmel, and Patton Oswalt.[250]

Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune recalled that "I came late to film criticism in Chicago, after writing about the theater. Roger loved the theater. His was a theatrical personality: a raconteur, a spinner of dinner-table stories, a man who was not shy about his accomplishments. But he made room in that theatrical, improbable, outsized life for others."[251] Andrew O'Hehir of Salon wrote that "He's up there with Will Rogers, H. L. Mencken, A. J. Liebling and not too far short of Mark Twain as one of the great plainspoken commentators on American life."[252]

The Onion paid tribute to Ebert: "Calling the overall human existence 'poignant,' 'thought-provoking,' and 'a complete tour de force,' film critic Roger Ebert praised existence as 'an audacious and thrilling triumph.'...'At times brutally sad, yet surprisingly funny, and always completely honest, I wholeheartedly recommend existence. If you haven't experienced it yet, what are you waiting for? It is not to be missed.' Ebert later said that while human existence's running time was 'a little on the long side' it could have gone on much, much longer and he would have been perfectly happy."[253]

Hundreds of people attended the funeral Mass held at Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral on April 8, 2013, where Ebert was celebrated as a film critic, newspaperman, advocate for social justice, and husband. Father Michael Pfleger concluded the service with "the balconies of heaven are filled with angels singing 'Thumbs Up' ".[254]

Memorials[edit]

An image of a bronze statue of Roger Ebert outside of a movie theater.
A statue of Ebert giving his "thumbs up" outside the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Illinois

A nearly-three-hour public tribute, entitled Roger Ebert: A Celebration of Life, was held on April 11, 2013, at the Chicago Theatre. It featured in-person remembrances, video testimonials, video and film clips, and gospel choirs, and was, according to the Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro, "a laughter- and sorrow-filled send-off from the entertainment and media worlds."[255]

In September 2013, organizers in Champaign, Illinois, announced plans to raise $125,000 to build a life-size bronze statue of Ebert in the town, which was unveiled in front of the Virginia Theatre at Ebertfest on April 24, 2014.[256] The composition was selected by his widow, Chaz Ebert, and depicts Ebert sitting in the middle of three theater seats giving a "thumbs up."[257][258]

The 2013 Toronto International Film Festival opened with a video tribute of Ebert at Roy Thomson Hall during the world premiere of the WikiLeaks-based film The Fifth Estate. Ebert had been an avid supporter of the festival since its inception in the 1970s.[259] Chaz was in attendance to accept a plaque on Roger's behalf.[260] At the same festival, documentarian Errol Morris dedicated his film The Unknown Known to Ebert, saying "He was a really fabulous part of my life, a good friend, a champion, an inspiring writer. I loved Roger."[261]

In August 2013, the Plaza Classic Film Festival in El Paso, Texas, paid homage to Ebert by screening seven films that played a role in his life: Citizen Kane, The Third Man, Tokyo Story, La Dolce Vita, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Fitzcarraldo and Goodfellas.[262]

At the 86th Academy Awards ceremony, Ebert was included in the in memoriam montage, a rare honor for a film critic.[263][264]

In 2014, the documentary Life Itself was released. Director Steve James, whose films had been widely advocated by Ebert, started making the documentary while Ebert was still alive. Martin Scorsese served as an executive producer. The film studies Ebert's life and career, while also filming Ebert during his final months, and includes interviews with his family and friends. It was universally praised by critics. It has a 98% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.[265]

Werner Herzog told Entertainment Weekly that Ebert was "a soldier of the cinema": "I always loved Roger for being the good soldier, not only the good soldier of cinema, but he was a wounded soldier who for years in his affliction held out and plowed on and soldiered on and held the outpost that was given up by almost everyone: The monumental shift now is that intelligent, deep discourse about cinema has been something that has been vanishing over the last maybe two decades...I've always tried to be a good soldier of cinema myself, so of course since he's gone, I will plow on, as I have plowed on all my life, but I will do what I have to do as if Roger was looking over my shoulder. And I am not gonna disappoint him."[266]

Ebert was inducted as a laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. In 2001, the governor of Illinois awarded him the state's highest honor, the Order of Lincoln, in the area of performing arts.[267] In 2016, Ebert was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.[268]

The website RogerEbert.com contains an archive of every review Ebert wrote, as well as many essays and opinion pieces. The site, operated by Ebert Digital (a partnership between Chaz and friend Josh Golden), continues to publish new material written by a group of critics who were selected by Ebert before his death.[269]

Awards and honors[edit]

Ebert received many awards during his long and distinguished career as a film critic and television host. He was the first film critic to ever win a Pulitzer Prize, receiving the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1975 while working for the Chicago Sun-Times, "for his film criticism during 1974".[270][271]

In 2003, Ebert was honored by the American Society of Cinematographers winning a Special Achievement Award. In 2005, Ebert received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work on television. His star is located at 6834 Hollywood Blvd.[272] In 2009, Ebert received the Directors Guild of America Award's for Honorary Life Member Award.[273] In 2010, Ebert received the Webby Award for Person of the Year.[274]

In 2007, Ebert was honored by the Gotham Awards receiving a tribute and award for his lifetime contributions to independent film.[275]

On May 15, 2009, Ebert was honored by the American Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival by the renaming of its conference room, "The Roger Ebert Conference Center." Martin Scorsese joined Ebert and his wife Chaz at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.[276]

Year Award Category Nominated work Result
1979 Chicago Emmy Awards Outstanding Special Program Sneak Previews Won
1984 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Informational Series At the Movies Nominated
1985 Nominated
1987 Siskel & Ebert & the Movies Nominated
1988 Nominated
1989 Daytime Emmy Awards Outstanding Special Class Program Nominated
1990 Nominated
1991 Nominated
1992 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Informational Series Nominated
1994 Nominated
1997 Nominated
2005 Chicago Emmy Awards Silver Circle Award Won

Honors

Published works[edit]

Each year from 1986 to 1998, Ebert published Roger Ebert's Movie Home Companion (retitled Roger Ebert's Video Companion for its last five installments), which collected all of his movie reviews to that point. From 1999 to 2013 (except in 2008), Ebert instead published Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook, a collection of all of his movie reviews from the previous two and a half years (for example, the 2011 edition, ISBN 978-0-7407-9769-9, covers January 2008 – July 2010.) Both series also included yearly essays, interviews, and other writings. He also wrote the following books:

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The question how in these last sentences of the blog entry refers back to its first paragraph in which Ebert writes that as a second-grader he would lie awake at night asking himself the questions "But how could God have no beginning? And how could he have no end?".[220]

References[edit]

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  5. ^ Turan, Kenneth (April 4, 2013). "Remembrance: Roger Ebert, film's hero to the end". Los Angeles Times.
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  11. ^ a b c d e f g Felsenthal, Carol (December 2005). "A Life In The Movies". Chicago Magazine. Archived from the original on August 23, 2011. Retrieved April 6, 2013.
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  15. ^ a b "RogerEbert.com". RogerEbert.com. October 13, 2004. Retrieved July 24, 2011.
  16. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 18, 2010). "My old man". Retrieved July 11, 2019. I always worked on newspapers. Harold Holmes, the father of my best friend Hal, was an editor at The News-Gazette, and took us down to the paper. A linotype operator set my byline in lead, and I used a stamp pad to imprint everything with "By Roger Ebert." I was electrified. I wrote for the St. Mary's grade school paper. Nancy Smith and I were co-editors of the Urbana High School Echo. At Illinois, I published "Spectator," a liberal weekly, my freshman year, and then sold it and went over to The Daily Illini. But that was after my father's death.
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  28. ^ a b Ebert, Roger. Life Itself: A Memoir. New York: Grand Central Publishing. p. 139.
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Further reading[edit]

  • Bruce J. Evensen. "Ebert, Roger (18 June 1942–04 April 2013)" American National Biography (2015) [www.anb.org/viewbydoi/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.1603924 online]
  • Singer, Matt (2023). Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 978-0-593-54015-2.

External links[edit]