Saturday, April 4, 2015

My favorite writer: Two years without Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert died April 4, 2013.

Sometimes, I feel a little silly telling people that my favorite writer was a film critic. Not Charles Dickens or Henry David Thoreau or Richard Yates – though they are all great – but Chicago movie writer Roger Ebert. Of course, those of us who read Ebert’s work every week and hung on his every word know that he was much more than a film critic. He was a life critic, someone who could see the logic and the flaw in any argument and always sought to be on the side of right, whatever that was.

He died two years ago today, and each day since, it has been difficult not to feel that I am missing something valuable from my life. His longtime colleague and friend Richard Roeper spoke for all of us last year on the first anniversary of Ebert’s death when he said: “What would Roger say? What would Roger write? What would Roger’s take be? Those thoughts cross my mind nearly every time I exit a screening.”

No one can speak for Ebert. I certainly cannot, but there are a few things I am sure of. He would have loved 12 Years a Slave. As a fan of Michael Apted’s fabulous Seven Up series, he would have been floored by Boyhood. He would be just as excited as the rest of us to see Martin Scorsese’s long-gestating passion project Silence finally make it to screens this year. I feel certain of these things, but damn, I wish he were around to write about them.

His work expanded on the Internet from film reviews to blog posts and other columns, and so did the scope of his interests. As much as I loved his reviews and his television show – At the Movies was appointment viewing when I was in high school – I lived for his columns on spirituality, gun violence, and American culture at large. Growing up, I never wanted to be anything other than a writer, and Ebert’s columns showed me all the different things being a writer could mean. It means being observant, honest, optimistic, and most of all compassionate.

Ebert is not my favorite writer because I think he is the best, although I would put his simple, elegant prose alongside any of the giants of English literature. No, he is my favorite because he is the one who makes me love what I do and makes me want to keep doing it. There is nothing in this life I am more suited to than writing, and it was Ebert whose work convinced me this pursuit could be more than words on a page. He showed me this could be important and valuable, and I don’t think we can ask too much more of our heroes.

I have told my Roger Ebert story before. You can read it in my review of director Steve James’ great documentary on Ebert, Life Itself, which is on Netflix Instantwatch now, by the way. So, rather than retell that, I thought I would share some of his work that influenced me most and most changed the way I think about movies and about life. Click on any of the below links to go and read the piece.

Thank you, Roger, for all of it. I only wish there were more, but I guess the same could be said about this whole crazy life of ours.

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