"A great visionary achievement."
-Roger Ebert on Alex Proyas' Dark City (1998) though we could be referring to Roger Ebert himself-
As you've probably heard famed film critic Roger Ebert (1942-2013) passed away following a long battle with cancer that he fought courageously and publicly while he continued to write.
There's so much to say about this man who, along with his film critic partner, the late Gene Siskel (1946-1999), forged the popular At The Movies (later Siskel And Ebert At The Movies).
Of course At The Movies wasn't popular in the conventional sense of mainstream availability. I searched high and low for that show each week. I was relentless. The syndicated program bounced around like a ping pong ball too. It was extremely difficult to find the show, but I managed to track it down each week, always at different times it seemed, to catch Siskel and Ebert's wonderfully insightful film reviews that captured so much in the smallest window of TV time they were given. Their fiery repartee made it an awful lot of fun. Even today their often fierce but fair debate seems lost from the political discourse. Siskel and Ebert had a heck of a chemistry.
But it was Roger Ebert of The Chicago-Sun Times that I most identified with each week. I often found I landed in his camp regarding science fiction and horror and less so with Siskel, but like Siskel, Ebert always offered a different perspective. Whether I agreed with their assessments I always learned something about film and sometimes the human condition whether in regard to story performance or the work of the director's themselves through their art.
Eventually I tracked their segments down on the Internet once that became an option years after dodgy television channels carried it.
So much has influenced my life personally that it's impossible to point to any one thing, but apart from family, friends, people you meet, science fiction and film, it was indeed the analysis of Roger Ebert's time offered to me through television that was partly responsible for part of what I'm doing right here. Let's face it, he was the best and he was one of the few doing it when no one else could until the advent of computers. His work inspired my own desire to write, among other influences, but Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic certainly owes a debt of thanks to someone like Ebert who opened the eyes of so many to writing. He, along with so many teachers along the way, asked me to dig deeper, reflect, analyze and discover the psychology behind the actions that are so fascinating in human nature through film.
Roger Ebert loved what he did and that shined through in his writing and his passion for film on television too. He understood the pleasures of seeing the world and humanity through the coordination of visionaries, performers and writers.
I remember hanging on every word for reviews of Aliens, Black Hawk Down, Dark City and Final Fantasy, all of which he loved by the way. I remember being stunned when he gave Ridley Scott's Gladiator Thumbs Down. Wow.
Additionally, Roger Ebert provided two full-length audio commentaries to two of my favorite films, Isao Takahata's Grave Of The Fireflies (1988) and Alex Proyas' Dark City (1998). Oddly, his audio commentary is conspicuously missing from many of the re-printed editions of Grave of The Fireflies on Blu-Ray and DVD. Be sure to get the rare two-disc Collector's Edition featuring all of the bonus material including Ebert's assessment of the film as "an emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation...it belongs on any list of the greatest war films ever made." An animated war classic? He's right, but he was also one of the few thinking outside of the proverbial box. The Dark City Blu-Ray retained Ebert's audio commentary for the release of that film's Director's Cut.
If anything the man was honest offering his always well-supported arguments for or against films. I loved watching his breakdowns. So a thank you and a big thumbs way up to a man who really looked at humanity in popular culture with an insightful, laser-like perceptiveness. It was indeed his love for the art form that helped shape my own approach to film and television helping me to form a more critical eye.
Roger Ebert was 70 and it was a pleasure to enjoy this prolific writer's work.