What separates good writers from the generation-defining writers is how they are able to add their passion and personality through the simple use of words. That through the phrases and metaphors, there lies a person who has feelings and beliefs that touch the reader and set up a relationship between the two.
Roger Ebert was one such writer.
While I did not know Roger, I felt an instantaneous connection with him just by reading his reviews. Not just a shared love of cinema, but a passion to live life to the fullest and enjoy what really matters. His writing made me appreciate what this world had to offer and to narrow in on my own passions in life.
Whether or not you agreed with Roger Ebert's reviews and opinions on movies, you could always admire and respect what he had to offer. His insights were intelligent, insightful, often funny and thought-provoking. He hit at the core of what film criticism should do: Be the beginning of a discussion on cinema, art and life itself.
Perhaps this is why Roger Ebert was my biggest idol while working on film criticism. Even while the man was being treated for thyroid cancer, losing the ability to speak, eat and drink, Roger never gave up on what he loved. He never lost his sense of humor, and continued to help fellow upcoming filmmakers see their full potential. Though he was mostly hospitalized, he still found ways to sneak out and go see a movie. You could never take that away from Roger.
It is also why I am having a difficult time writing this review on the documentary about Roger Ebert's life, "Life Itself." For one, documentaries about a person's life are difficult to comment on, as they chronicle the ups, downs, side-splitting and tear-jerking moments of existing. There is not much to say without repeating exactly what the movie said, except that what I say probably wouldn't be as insightful.
I am practically reviewing another human's time on this planet.
Second, Roger Ebert shaped the film community and by making film criticism exciting to listen to. People would tune in on a weekly basis to see what Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert thought of the newest films out at the time, which is baffling considering that these two would talk about movies like "An American Tale," "Crash" and "Porky's."
Third is what Roger meant to me. When I started getting into film criticism, I had opinions and ideas of what I thought was good cinema. But then I started to read some of Roger's "Great Movies" reviews on films like "Rear Window" and "Ikiru." And while I don't necessarily think he taught me about what was good cinema, reading his reviews did teach me what I appreciated about cinema and to be passionate about my opinions and feelings. Roger understood that cinema, and art in general, is a subjective experience and will varying from person to person. So by embracing those differences and understanding why you like something, you have just gained a deeper appreciation of film and yourself.
One scene in particular that stood out to me in "Life Itself" was when, in the middle of a film conference, a young student stopped Roger to ask him a question about why he should be the big film critic. Why should he get to give us his opinions on movies and what makes him so high and mighty that he deserves this?
Roger said that, one, he is told by the editor-in-chief of the Chicago-Sun Times that he has the job title of "film critic" and his pay checks come from his film reviews, thus giving him the right to tell us about his opinions. The other was a simple question.
Would you want to listen to your own reviews? Is that something you'd like to read?
I couldn't help but ask myself that same question the moment I heard it. Are my own reviews something I'd enjoying reading? But, more importantly, is that what separates a mediocre film critic from a good one? I'm not sure if I know the answer to that.
What I do know is that, even after Roger Ebert's reviews have ceased, he still finds new ways to keep my mind intrigued and passion for cinema alive.
"Life Itself" is not just about what Roger Ebert brought to this world, but also how to appreciate life through a different lens. Roger once said that he was born in the film about his own life. He didn't know how he got there, but he was always entertained by it.
Cinema offers a moral center that is often overlooked and goes unappreciated. But when you look at all the different types of movies out there, you realize its parallels to life are uncanny. Both can be beautiful, funny, heart-breaking, breath-taking, exciting, nerve-wracking, ugly, erotic, suspenseful, tragic, and most importantly, passionate.
Roger Ebert understood that more than most other people, and that's why we loved him so much.