Film critic Roger Ebert has died.
As someone who came of age in the 1980s in the Chicago area, I remember him and Gene Siskel being the first regular movie critics I ever watched on television. To be honest I more often disagreed with Ebert than I did his late cohost Siskel, and sometimes I felt Ebert let his politics intrude too deeply into his views of various movies–but at least he was honest and straightforward about this most of the time, which was a plus. In any case his criticisms were generally thoughtful and often funny, and he had a deep impact on me as a young man who wanted to understand and think about movies rather than just watch and enjoy them.
It’s a funny thing when we hit middle age (I’ll be 47 this year) and we start to see icons from our youth pass away; it reminds you of your own mortality and it feels like parts of your past are slipping away, even when it’s people you have never met and never expected to.
I’m not sure we’ll ever see a film critic of the impact of Roger Ebert again, if only because the media landscape has changed so much; when he first hit the airwaves, cable TV was a rarity and most of the time there was only handful of TV stations to choose from. Thus the ability of one person to be known by practically everybody was much greater than today. Although I don’t think of Ebert as a “great” intellectual per se, he was an intellectual, who brought that intellect to the movies and shared it with the audience, so whether you agreed with him or not you almost always knew where he was coming from. Even if you disagreed with him, you wanted to argue with him rather than just say he was wrong. He challenged his readers that way, and I appreciated that about him. Today, everybody’s a critic, and between hundreds of TV channels and millions of YouTube channels, I don’t think you’ll ever see a critic of that kind of stature again. And in any case, he was by all accounts a good man, and he taught me a lot about what I liked and disliked in movies. He will be missed.