‘Two thumbs up’ to the greatest film critic – Roger Ebert obituary

Roger Joseph Ebert
June 18, 1942 – April 4, 2013

It is difficult for any cinephile to comprehend the news that film critic, journalist, and screenwriter Roger Ebert sadly passed on April 4th, after a long-term battle with cancer.

As a young cinema-goer, for a long time I was unaware of the story of Ebert’s rise to fame as a professional critic, which began way back on April 3rd, 1965, when he began writing his first column for the Chicago Sun-Times. Anyone who has followed his work will appreciate that loyalty is a recurring theme.  He never left the Sun-Times, remaining at the publication for forty years and one day until his death Thursday.

It was in 2010 as a first-year undergraduate student that I was able to fully recognise my love for movies when an opportunity to write for the university newspaper presented itself almost accidentally. I cannot convincingly say to anyone that without Ebert’s fantastic reviews on his renowned website that I would have continued to write so often for the newspaper, or contribute to other journalistic websites, including of course Yuppee. I can categorically say that his accessible and witty reviews have persuaded me to indulge in hundreds of delightful films I would never otherwise have considered purchasing; delightful films that have enabled me to escape the often biting realism that for a significant period of my academic life I haven’t really been able to understand who I am, or what I want out of life. To paraphrase the writer Shirley Jackson, the conditions of real-life require escapism to maintain our sanity. Discovering films was the single most effective way of achieving this. For that, Roger, I can only thank you.

But I know I’m not the only person with admiration: those of the previous generation will be familiar with his Sun-Times column, and the hit TV shows Sneak Previews and At The Movies (the latter of which he presented with his colleague Gene Siskel). The duo’s “Two Thumbs Up” method of rating movies entered the mainstream, and was even cleverly referenced in the Bloodhound Gang’s 1999 track “The Bad Touch”. Pop culture references reflect how comfortably Ebert had positioned himself within the general public’s attention. The devotion of his fans has always been solid, something he acknowledged himself after his first major battle with thyroid cancer in 2006. After a period of absence, he stated: “I have discovered a goodness and decency in people as exhibited in all the letters, e-mails, flowers, gifts and prayers that have been directed my way. One thing I’ve discovered is that I love my job more than I thought I did.” Despite losing part of his jaw and being unable to speak, he remained resolute, and for years never missed a single movie opening, and wrote an average of 200 reviews every year. He was evidently an extremely hard worker, and lived for movies.  His other accomplishments including his numerous books, and he even tried his hand at screenwriting. The loyalty between Ebert and his fans was mutually ardent.

Ebert was held in high regard by actors, directors, and fellow journalistic colleagues alike, with Forbes magazine once describing him as “intelligent, experienced and articulate” and the Chicago Sun-Times wrote of him as the nation’s “most influential film critic”. Nor did his work go unnoticed in the world of renowned awards, when he became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1975.

Ebert can justifiably be described as the greatest cinematic critic of all time. Not only an inspiration to young and old movie-lovers, but the epitome of the inherently human ability to triumph in the face of extreme adversity, and a reminder that if you love something enough, you can – and will – continue to fight for it until the very end.

Only two days before his death, he wrote a blog entry where he revealed that his cancer had returned. Despite being prevented from writing any longer, the legacy he bestows upon is all is a wealth of film knowledge, immortal wit, and a profound respect for his hard work, commitment, and professional love.

I sincerely hope that his planned projects continue to be curated by his talented writing team so that the profits we reap from his work transcend his unspeakably sad death. His last blog post is bittersweet, but it is impossible to be any more relevant: “Thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.”

We’ll see you there too, Roger.

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