Critic Roger Ebert dies, leaves void in film industry

When it comes down to most of my habits or the friendships I’ve built, I generally can’t pinpoint a specific moment when they began.

For example, during most of my youth, I abhorred Grandma Fashimpaur’s cheesy potatoes and her homemade dumplings, too. Oh, how things change – blast my high-carb intake.

Nor can I place the exact beginning of my friendships with The Knight’s editor-in-chief or features editor. They both sort of happened.

Call it poor memory – or my preference, “selective memory” – but I prefer to see things as they are now, not how they used to be.

But it’s easier to do that with the good things. The bad, on the other hand, is much tougher to swallow when it sneaks up on you and sends your heart plummeting to your stomach.

Which brings me to Thursday, when a curt text broke my news bubble.

Roger Ebert had just died.

I couldn’t tell you when I started reading Ebert’s movie reviews. If I were to guess I’d say it was around freshman year.

I had read movie reviews before, but nothing as analytical, yet equal parts accessible, as Ebert’s movie musings.

I kept up with his current reviews, usually the mainstream fare, but on average Ebert published 200 film critiques every year.

He’s been around the industry for some time, too. I poured through his archived reviews for his first reaction to what would become “the classics.”

Would it surprise you to know that Ebert did not like “The Lion King”? He and Gene Siskell agreed they couldn’t relate much with Simba.

Or what about Ebert’s first reaction to “Star Wars,” and at that, a critic’s perspective? He was one of the few active critics who could claim he didn’t see George Lucas’ groundbreaking sci-fi cinema through the lens of a child.

But I wasn’t inspired by Ebert’s cerebral writing style or his endless references of movie canon.

It was response to an adverse situation: his fight with cancer in his thyroid and salivary gland.

After receiving a diagnosis in 2002 and experiencing several surgeries – including one that removed part of his jaw – Ebert lost the ability to speak on his own.

Remarkably, this didn’t dissuade Ebert from reviewing movies. He returned full time in May 2007, back to his quota of 200 reviews per year.

I grew concerned when he stopped writing fresh bylines around Christmas. Ebert wrote a blog revealing a hairline hip fracture, but soon a committee of writers settled in to his website.

On Thursday, I read Ebert’s last blog entry, dated two days earlier. For most of it, he was upbeat about returning to work.

But Ebert did open his blog with a heartfelt thank-you to all of his readers, and that certainly read like a goodbye.

I might not become a great journalist, or even a good one, but I hope I can develop but one ounce of the rapport Ebert built with his readers.

As one of those readers, Roger Ebert’s career and legacy deserve two thumbs up.

 

DAN KUBACKI

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