Thursday, April 4, 2013


The world lost its greatest film critic today. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times died at the age of 70 after battling cancer for many years. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his film criticism, and won the hearts and admiration of millions of film fans throughout the world for his insightful writing and passionate love for film. He became a household name through his movie review programs on TV with long-time friend and rival Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune. And he was one of the most prolific commentators about the arts, politics and the movie world up to his dying day. Today, the world of film is sadder, and I mourn his loss along with all those fortunate to know him or know of him.

Here, in his honor and memory, is the link to a piece I wrote about him in 2011 here at The Establishing Shot. He will be greatly missed.

I also think he's the most important film critic of all time. Here's why:

He utterly changed the world of film criticism.
Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel changed it together when they started hosting their movie reviews programs on TV in 1975. They became celebrity critics like no other had been before or since. In fact, by 1977 when SNEAK PREVIEWS became syndicated, they became household names. Their argumentative style thus influenced a generation of film critics, as well as a host of cable news shows. And their ‘thumbs up’ became the most desired approval sought by any Hollywood filmmaker.

He championed film better than any other critic.
Ebert may have hated certain movies in his day, but he rarely took delight in negative reviews. Unlike peers such as Pauline Kael, his best writing wasn’t when he was taking down a film, but rather, when he was exalting one. He wrote dozens of books on films, penned prolifically for the Chicago Sun-Times, and embraced social media to jot down more about film than any other critic going. He put movies like HOOP DREAMS, EVE'S BAYOU and many other small films on the map, and often in the eyes of Oscar.  Ebert lived and loved movies so much he even sponsored his own film festival –“Ebertfest” - in Champaign, Illinois for many, many years.

Hollywood respected him immeasurably.
Most artists loathe critics, but there are have been a select few who are respected and even revered. Roger Ebert was one. Practically everyone in Hollywood admired him. They liked him too. He was smart, fair and never played favorites. Folks like Martin Scorsese considered Ebert’s thoughts to be so invaluable, so helpful, that they became friends. Ebert was a straight shooter and he never became a shell of his former self, raging at the windmills like Rex Reed so often does now in his twilight years. Quite the contrary, Ebert became even more buoyant about the possibility of film.

He never sold out.
Ebert kept his integrity and never became a commercial spokesman, shilling for soda, giving a fabric softener a ‘big thumbs up’. He could have made millions doing so, but never did. He always stood on principle, even venturing into political commentary and criticism in the last few years to rage at hypocrisy and prejudice in the GOP ( He was the very definition of editorial integrity up to his dying day.

His illnesses only made him stronger.
Roger battled alcoholism in his early days, and famously and courageously confronted his thyroid cancer throughout the last decade, losing his voice and part of his jawbone to it. He also struggled with his weight for many years. But none of those things kept him from staying positive and prolific about movies, writing, and journalism. He was a superb critic, writer and journalist, as well as a loving husband to attorney Chaz Hammelsmith, and a great friend to all those who knew him.

I am deeply saddened by the death of Roger Ebert. He was a hero and an inspiration. And his importance in my movie world and the world of film will remain forever profound and unmatched.

1 comment:

  1. One of the funniest books I've ever read is Ebert's "I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie". Ebert's hilariously damning pans actually caused me to seek out the films to see if they were really THAT bad. They were worse (in some cases).