My love/hate relationship with the critic Roger Ebert is now at an end. He is finally free of the pain, free of the suffering. For that freedom, and nothing more, I am glad his life is over. None should have to deal with that for a moment, let alone struggle against it for as long as he did.
Be that as it may, my love of film has always been paramount. ( * oh... pun ... sorry *) Watching Gene and Roger commit acts of television and attempts at criticism was always entertaining, but Gene was My Boy, the One That Understood. Roger was the blustery one, the one that caused my eyes to roll so often that the mention of his name made the vision blur, a trained response, B. F. Skinner proven right. Again.
My first encounter with Roger was the printing of his criticism of Night Of The Living Dead, reprinted in Reader's Digest. Then, as now, that piece is totally misunderstood: Roger, disliking horror, leaned toward a slam, but not so much as the notion that parents would drop off the kids at a film that is, without debate, too adult for pre-teens, possibly too adult for most adults.
His review looked beyond the screen into the audience. He noted the absence of adults, the plethora of children and the grue and gore supplied 24 frames per second. I have often wondered if it was more the children being brutalized than the film itself that so turned him against my genre of preference. He really could not write anything positive about horror from that point on.
So be it: selah.
I did not encounter his writing again for several decades, but did see him on TV with Gene. There, on the PBS version (aka The Only One I Really Liked), the two did a special program on Films You Missed But Should Seek Out. During the course of that particular show the two went on at some length about a little film called Miracle Mile. As relentless a thriller as possible, the performances are sheer joy, the writing is taut, the imagery brilliant.
Already a fan of the show, it then became an institution at Chez Allard. Never to be missed.
When first I began to purchase DVD's, making the slow turn from tape to digital medium, one of the first three DVD's to make their way into my home was the brilliant Dark City. I had read nothing of the film, there seemed to be a media blackout, but the images in the trailer were stunning, and the director, Alex Proyas, had made The Crow, which I rather enjoyed.
On that disc, in the extras, was the original Ebert review. It was in the reading of that review that I developed a massive respect for the man and his talents, not merely because ( * ahem * ) I agreed with every word, which I did, but more, much more, was the constant echoing inside me... "Wish I had written that."
When he was good, he was the best we had. He now is gone, and our contradictory views of much that makes film an art is now no longer important.
Roger Ebert, R.I.P.