Roger Ebert (1942-2013) died a few days ago on April 4, 2013. Mr Ebert had an incredible story of hope and perseverance in the later part of his life while fighting an incredible battle with cancer that took part of his jaw, his ability to speak and eat/drink without a feeding tube. What some people may not be aware of are Mr Ebert’s contributions to film and cinema in the Midwest region as well as the country and the world.
I first discovered Mr Ebert in the basement of my parents’ house in the late 80s while watching TV on the old set we had where you actually had to walk up and crank a dial to change the channel. Pretty rough, eh? I have no idea what station I was watching or what the program was called, but I assume it was Siskel & Ebert & the Movies. This show aired from 1986 to 2010 with different hosts and co-hosts along the way. Gene Siskel died of a heart attack in 1999 and Roger Ebert continued the show until he stepped down in 2006. During this time Siskel and Ebert reviewed many, many films. I didn’t always agree with what they had to say, but there aren’t many who really have the same film tastes I do.
Ebert wasn’t just a guy who watched movies. He also cared about them and the industry. Have you ever wondered why the MPAA rating for a film makes no sense? Well Ebert thought so too. He was a fan of films being shows at 48 frames per second and also disliked the recent 3D craze. I came across this video clip today of Ebert defending Better Luck Tomorrow at a Sundance Film Festival screening.
Here’s a paragraph from Ebert’s Wikipedia page describing the situation.
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 (2001) 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, “I was on a panel today with Chris Eyre, the Native American director. And he said, that for a long time, his people, American Indians, had always had to play some kind of a function, like they were the source of spirituality, or the source of great wisdom and they spoke to the trees and the wind and so forth. And he wanted to make a movie that allowed Native Americans to be people. People in some cases who are alcoholics or who are vigilantes, or in prison. What I find very offensive and condescending about your statement is that nobody would say such a thing to a bunch of white filmmakers: how could you do this to ‘your people’? This film has the right to be about these people, and Asian American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be. They do not have to represent ‘their people’!” He was a supporter of the film after the incident at Sundance, and also supported a number of Asian American films, having them also screen at his film festival (such as Eric Byler‘s Charlotte Sometimes). Ebert was a fan of Asian-American filmmaker Wayne Wang.
One other clip I always chuckle about is Siskel and Ebert’s review of The Big Lebowski (1998). Siskel really hates the film and Ebert defends it, even using some of the vernacular from Joel and Ethan Coen’s script. Start watching at 7min 15sec. I wanted to embed the video, but it starts autoplaying and I find that annoying. Check out the link below.
Roger Ebert’s death is definitely a loss for the film community and while I’m sad to no longer read a new article or see his tweets, I’m definitely celebrating his legacy.