Film critic and writer Roger Ebert died today after a valiant battle with cancer. It isn't how he died that I'll remember. His cancer-ravaged face and loss of speech only spoke to the cost of the fight. The fact that he kept going and wanted to remain relevant spoke to who he was.
I always admired Roger Ebert. I wanted to be him. Not a film critic, per se, but I wanted to be who he was. The man was all about passion and communication. He was passionately devoted to the movies and the directors who displayed the excellence that made movies memorable. He spotted Spike Lee's talent early on. He recognized Martin Scorcese's greatness when most other critics scoffed. He also suffered fools and mediocrity poorly. One of the most entertaining books I've ever read was "Your Movie Sucks," which was a brilliant collection of Ebert's reviews, but only his scathing pans. Movies were art to Ebert, and bad art offended him. He loved movies, and when a movie was great, he wanted you to love it, too. The "two thumbs up" meme came directly from Ebert and his longtime partner in criticism Gene Siskel. When a film deserved to be skewered, few did the job better than Ebert, and to more devastating effect. One of my favorite paragraphs of Ebert's entire career was part of his review of Tom Green's 2001 disaster "Freddy Got Fingered."
"This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels."
Ebert's passion extended to politics, as well. He cared deeply about the country, and the political system that was often inexplicably broken. No matter what he wrote about, Ebert was quite simply, a great writer. His Pulitzer Prize was a testament to that.
Roger Ebert was an influential giant in the industry, but he didn't care about celebrity, and had no use for interviews with cinematic stars. He cared about the product more than the process. Roger Ebert was all about style over substance, and in his final, deeply personal pitched battle against the disease that ultimately claimed his life, he demonstrated grace and dignity in impossible circumstances.
He was, in the end, not unlike a heroic movie hero. He knows he'll die in the last reel, yet he never wants to let the antagonist get the best of him. It's ok to root for the guy who won't get out alive, because he's still the hero. His humanity makes him a better, more admirable character, not a lesser one.
I give Roger Ebert's life two enthusiastic thumbs up. Once and for all, the balcony is closed.