Kadner: Ebert was the Astaire of film critics
By Phil Kadner email@example.com April 4, 2013 10:32PM
Roger Ebert, 70, who reviewed movies for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years and on TV for 31 years, died Thursday in Chicago. | Getty Images file photo
Updated: April 5, 2013 7:05AM
Roger Ebert would have written a better obituary about himself than anyone else will today.
That’s just how good a newspaperman he was.
He put Chicago, a podunk town in the view of opinion makers on the East and West coasts, at the very center of the Hollywood film industry universe.
First as a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and later through his television shows with Chicago Tribune film critic Gene Siskel, Ebert influenced not only audiences but movie titans.
He fought for directors who were mavericks and championed actors who were unappreciated.
He became such a huge success on TV not because he was a pretty face, but because he had integrity and credibility.
The audience trusted his opinions, even if they disagreed with them.
I could never understand people who told me they disgreed with an Ebert film review.
You could certainly disagree with his rating, be it two stars or a thumbs up, but in nearly every review he told readers in detail why he liked or didn’t like a movie.
Often, he would say that while, in his opinion, a movie was mindless junk, it would appeal to large numbers of people who liked that kind of thing.
Of course, he said it more eloquently than that.
When people asked me to name my favorite newspaper columnists, I would often mention Ebert.
The fact is that he was one of the best writers in Chicago newspaper history, and that’s a pretty impressive past.
At their best, Ebert reviews were literary masterpieces, using language that jumped from the page and created mental portraits of screen images.
He might start a column writing about a Samurai sword fight, slip in a reference to Japanese philosophers, drop in a description of a street he once visited in London, explain a little-known mathematical theory, and finish with flourish about great martial arts movies, fitting it all together seamlessly.
Reading Ebert was an education in movies, writing and life.
He was the Fred Astaire of film critics, doing it all with such grace, readers never noticed how difficult it really was.
He took pains at times to explain in detail why he appreciated a movie, sharing his grasp of screenwriting, animation, stunts and cinematography.
He was a teacher and a good one.
But I would bet he would have liked most to be remembered as a newspaperman.
He relished scooping Siskel on a breaking story. Despite his honors and achievements, he always felt the need to write an obituary for his newspaper whenever a famous Hollywood figure died.
As for that newspaper, Ebert loved the Sun-Times. He was loyal to the end.
Yet, he wasn’t hamstrung like many of us by the past.
He was one of the first major newspaper figures to launch a blog site, which quickly won awards and was often cited for its high quality of social discourse.
Ordinary people communicating with Ebert just seemed to realize they were required to step up their game.
He was a TV celebrity, newspaperman, author, story teller and legend.
And the final years of his life would rival in drama any Hollywood movie he critiqued.
Disfigured by a horrible form of cancer, unable to speak, Ebert continued to review movies.
I can’t recall how many operations he underwent, but with his wife, Chaz, always at his side, Ebert continued to be Ebert.
That, my friends, is one great love story.
You felt sorry for the guy until you actually met him.
And then you felt sorry for yourself.
He made you understand what the words “a passion for living” really mean.
He greeted the outside world with a hearty thumbs up.
Behind the doors of his home, I can only imagine the demons he faced and conquered.
The thing about Ebert that can’t be mentioned often enough is that the man loved movies.
He loved bawdy movies with naked women, which often made Siskel sputter in disgust.
He enjoyed sophisticated comedies, films with real characters, and even silly comedies that made him laugh.
I was a fan of Roger Ebert’s.
Legends rarely live up to their reputations.
In the end, the legend this time paled in comparison to the man.