He’s the guy who made it possible for you, USA, to enjoy the movies not only as entertainment, but also as an art form. He broke through to the American public. He did it. Roger Ebert.
He wrenched the snooty cineaste consciousness away from the closest pop culture champion it had thus far been able to find, Pauline Kael, simply by appearing on tv — and for that he was pilloried his whole life. But by now this was no mere damp-eyed kid. By now, Roger Ebert knew, and communicated, as much about film as did Francois Truffaut and all his Cahiers du Cinema homm[i]es. Yes, Ebert “reviewed” movies on his show with Gene Siskel, another formidable mind, but you always understood they were (1) basically showing you the hits, and (2) even if there was something else behind, they didn’t have time to tell you about it at leisure. But they knew.
Earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, I ran into the same guy on line [not online!] for a few different screenings, and he always sat in the same spot at the Eccles Center, the high-school auditorium that’s the festival’s biggest single venue. I’d heard that Ebert had tended to do the same: was this his seat? Nope, the Sundance veteran said, and he pointed to another one that would have allowed Ebert to see the flick and then scoot away during the end-credit roll. Nobody, he said, NOBODY, allowed anyone else to bump Ebert from that particular seat for all those years. Good on you, Sundance.
I’m gonna let more erudite writers send Roger off, as you’ll see in the next week or two. But I wish I could have attended one of his master classes in which he went through a film shot by shot. I wish I could have been there at one of his forgotten-film festivals. Shit: I wish he was still alive. And that’s the whole deal.
4/5/13: Douglas Martin does a great job in the New York Times.