Special Edition: Roger Ebert 1942 – 2013



Roger Ebert | Roger Ebert’s Journal | 15 August 2011

life itselfThe opening pages Roger Ebert’s memoir, published September 13, 2011:

I was born inside the movie of my life. The visuals were before me, the audio surrounded me, the plot unfolded inevitably but not necessarily. I don’t remember how I got into the movie, but it continues to entertain me. At first the frames flicker without connection, as they do in Bergman’s Persona after the film breaks and begins again. I am flat on my stomach on the front sidewalk, my eyes an inch from a procession of ants. What these are I do not know. It is the only sidewalk in my life, in front of the only house. I have seen grasshoppers and ladybugs. My uncle Bob extends the business end of a fly swatter toward me, and I grasp it and try to walk toward him.



Roger Ebert | The Chicago Sun Times | 3 April 2013

Thank you. Forty-six years ago on April 3, 1967, I became the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. Some of you have read my reviews and columns and even written to me since that time. Others were introduced to my film criticism through the television show, my books, the website, the film festival, or the Ebert Club and newsletter. However you came to know me, I’m glad you did and thank you for being the best readers any film critic could ask for.

Typically, I write over 200 reviews a year for the Sun-Times that are carried by Universal Press Syndicate in some 200 newspapers. Last year, I wrote the most of my career, including 306 movie reviews, a blog post or two a week, and assorted other articles. I must slow down now, which is why I’m taking what I like to call “a leave of presence.”


Roger Steinberg | The Chicago Sun Times | 4 April 2013

Roger Ebert loved movies.

Except for those he hated.

For a film with a daring director, a talented cast, a captivating plot or, ideally, all three, there could be no better advocate than Roger Ebert, who passionately celebrated and promoted excellence in film while deflating the awful, the derivative, or the merely mediocre with an observant eye, a sharp wit and a depth of knowledge that delighted his millions of readers and viewers.

“No good film is too long,” he once wrote, a sentiment he felt strongly enough about to have engraved on pens. “No bad movie is short enough.”




Chaz Ebert | Roger Ebert’s Journal | The Chicago Sun Times | 4 April 2013

“I am devastated by the loss of my love, Roger — my husband, my friend, my confidante and oh-so-brilliant partner of over 20 years. He fought a courageous fight. I’ve lost the love of my life and the world has lost a visionary and a creative and generous spirit who touched so many people all over the world. We had a lovely, lovely life together, more beautiful and epic than a movie. It had its highs and the lows, but was always experienced with good humor, grace and a deep abiding love for each other.

“Roger was a beloved husband, stepfather to Sonia and Jay, and grandfather to Raven, Emil, Mark and Joseph. Just yesterday he was saying how his grandchildren were “the best things in my life.” He was happy and radiating satisfaction over the outpouring of responses to his blog about his 46th year as a film critic. But he was also getting tired of his fight with cancer, and said if this takes him, he has lived a great and full life.

“We were getting ready to go home today for hospice care, when he looked at us, smiled, and passed away. No struggle, no pain, just a quiet, dignified transition.

“We are touched by all the kindness and the outpouring of love we’ve received. And I want to echo what Roger said in his last blog, thank you for going on this journey with us.”


Roger Ebert | Roger Ebert’s Journal | 17 July 2012

Wednesday, July 18, is the 20th anniversary of our marriage. How can I begin to tell you about Chaz? She fills my horizon, she is the great fact of my life, she has my love, she saved me from the fate of living out my life alone, which is where I seemed to be heading. If my cancer had come, and it would have, and Chaz had not been there with me, I can imagine a descent into lonely decrepitude. I was very sick. I might have vegetated in hopelessness. This woman never lost her love, and when it was necessary she forced me to want to live. She was always there believing I could do it, and her love was like a wind forcing me back from the grave.

Does that sound too dramatic? You were not there. She was there every day, visiting me in the hospital whether I knew it or not, becoming an expert on my problems and medications, researching possibilities, asking questions, making calls, even giving little Christmas and Valentine’s Day baskets to my nurses, who she knew by name.




Robert Mankoff | The New Yorker | 25 April 2011

Two years ago, Roger Ebert wrote on his Chicago Sun-Times blog:

I have entered the New Yorker’s Cartoon Caption Contest almost weekly virtually since it began and have never even been a finalist. Mark Twain advised: “Write without pay until somebody offers to pay you. If nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for.” I have done more writing for free for the New Yorker in the last five years than for anybody in the previous 40 years.

It’s not that I think my cartoon captions are better than anyone else’s, although some weeks, understandably, I do. It’s that just once I want to see one of my damn captions in the magazine that publishes the best cartoons in the world. Is that too much to ask?

Done. To the delight of film fans, film-criticism fans, Caption Contest fans, and Roger Ebert fans—and count me among all of the above—Mr. Ebert has finally fulfilled his quest to win The New Yorker Caption Contest with this entry:

roger ebert-cartoon

Two thumbs up for you, Roger.

Roger was being a bit hyperbolic when he claimed to have entered practically all of the contests since its inception. Out of a possible two hundred and eighty contests leading up to his win in No. 281, the Bureau of Cartoon Caption Contest Statistics reports that he entered only a hundred and seven, which puts him in five hundred and sixty-ninth place out of 502,416 unique entrants, who have submitted a total of 1,595,506 captions.

I’m more impressed with the quality of Roger’s submissions. Here are three I really liked.

more here



Roger Ebert’s letter to a young Dana Stevens.
Dana Stevens | Slate | 4 April 2013

I’m not sure how old I was when I wrote Roger Ebert a letter asking for his advice on how to become a film critic, but judging from the other documents in the manila envelope where I’ve kept his response ever since, I must have been somewhere between 11 and 13. Ebert’s prompt and kind answer, typed on Chicago Sun-Times stationery using a typewriter with a wonky T key, took my query more seriously than it deserved, suggesting colleges with strong film programs I might consider, advising me to “see all the good movies you can,” and most of all encouraging me to “write-write-write for anyplace that will print your stuff.”

I’m in the midst of writing a longer reflection on Ebert’s life—not an easy task to carry out while refreshing Twitter and crying—but since so many people are exchanging stories about how he touched their lives, I thought I’d share a copy of his warm and generous note to a preteen movie geek in Texas. Thank you for writing back, Roger.

Letter from Roger Ebert to Dana Stevens.


Richard Brody | The Front Row | The New Yorker | 4 April 2013

I’ve long believed that the job of the daily reviewer is a very tough one. Ebert writes, in the introduction to his 2006 anthology of his work, “Awake in the Dark,” of seeing “three movies during a routine workday,” and, according to Douglas Martin’s obituary in the Times, Ebert “said he saw 500 films a year and reviewed half of them.” Some movies elicit passionate exultation; others, passionate revulsion. Those movies that repel you are the hardest to write about, and, for many critics, that’s the majority of movies. That’s where Ebert’s unique temperament, his humanistic world view, comes into play.

In the same introduction, Ebert writes: “I find that I love movies more now than I did when I started”—in 1967.

Every movie was made by people who hoped it would fulfill their vision for it, and is seen by people who hope to admire it. If you believe a movie is bad or wins its audience dishonorably, that can be a splendid beginning for a review, but you must remember that the people making it and seeing it have given up part of their lives in the hope that it would be worth those months or hours.

And I think that Ebert is right. Even movies made for obviously commercial purposes are made by filmmakers, producers, actors, and technicians who know that the only way to have a commercial success is to tap into some strain of authentic emotion, whether it’s attached to the experiences of characters or whether it has to do with the awe of the audience in the presence of virtuosity. Different critics approach the phenomenon differently, but relatively few films are works of pure cynicism, and boring results often have their origins in enthusiastic activities. Ebert had the remarkable temperament and the dedication to respond to the strain of human experience in movies of all sorts, as well as the flair to capture it. . . .more




Roger Ebert | rogerebert.com | 7 November 2003

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”


Roger Ebert | The New Yorker

I don’t know whether Ebert wrote “The Thinking Molecules of Titan” before or after seeing “The Tree of Life,” but it’s as if the story were actually his fullest review of that movie. It also offers a touching self-portrait as a man of his times, of his group, and of his musing mind. The researcher Mason’s rhapsodic vision of the universe and his modest yet unshakeable sense of his part in it is rooted in a real sense of place (a college town in Illinois) and in connections between friends and colleagues. This parable, of the fusion of science and art with the greatest mysteries, is a vision of a good life as well as of the universe; as such, it’s a poignant credo. We present it here in unedited form.

—Richard Brody

* * *

The text message came as Mason was dipping fried lake perch into the tartar sauce. This was in the Capital, a bar in Campustown that offered an elementary but cheap menu, on the grounds—the owner McHugh once told him—that if someone left looking for food they might never come back. The message on Mason’s phone said, “We have a pattern.” He reflected that any pattern, by definition, would be untold years in age and would not change now that the Titan Listening Lab had recorded it. He finished his perch, his French fries, and his canned creamed corn. He closed with apple crumb cake and the last of his beer. He said goodbye to his friends Alex and Claire. . .




Chris Jones | Esquire | March 2010

Roger Ebert can’t remember the last thing he ate. He can’t remember the last thing he drank, either, or the last thing he said. Of course, those things existed; those lasts happened. They just didn’t happen with enough warning for him to have bothered committing them to memory—it wasn’t as though he sat down, knowingly, to his last supper or last cup of coffee or to whisper a last word into Chaz’s ear. The doctors told him they were going to give him back his ability to eat, drink, and talk. But the doctors were wrong, weren’t they? On some morning or afternoon or evening, sometime in 2006, Ebert took his last bite and sip, and he spoke his last word.

Ebert’s lasts almost certainly took place in a hospital. That much he can guess. His last food was probably nothing special, except that it was: hot soup in a brown plastic bowl; maybe some oatmeal; perhaps a saltine or some canned peaches. His last drink? Water, most likely, but maybe juice, again slurped out of plastic with the tinfoil lid peeled back. The last thing he said? Ebert thinks about it for a few moments, and then his eyes go wide behind his glasses, and he looks out into space in case the answer is floating in the air somewhere. It isn’t. He looks surprised that he can’t remember. He knows the last words Studs Terkel’s wife, Ida, muttered when she was wheeled into the operating room (“Louis, what have you gotten me into now?”), but Ebert doesn’t know what his own last words were. He thinks he probably said goodbye to Chaz before one of his own trips into the operating room, perhaps when he had parts of his salivary glands taken out—but that can’t be right. He was back on TV after that operation. Whenever it was, the moment wasn’t cinematic. His last words weren’t recorded. There was just his voice, and then there wasn’t.


Roger Ebert | Roger Ebert’s Journal | 24 October 2013

From the moment that Hal Holmes and I slipped quietly into his basement and he showed me his father’s hidden collection of Playboy magazines, the map of my emotional geography shifted toward Chicago. In that magical city lived a man named Hugh Hefner who had Playmates possessing wondrous bits and pieces I had never seen before. I wanted to be invited to his house.

I was trembling on the brim of puberty, and aroused not so much by the rather sedate color “centerfold” of an undressed woman, as by the black and white photos that accompanied them. These showed an ordinary woman (I believe it was Janet Pilgrim) entering an office building in Chicago, and being made up for her “pictorial.” Made up! Two makeup artists were shown applying powders and creams to her flesh. This electrified me. It made Pilgrim a real person. In an interview she spoke of her life and ambitions.

The photographs that burned into my mind did not reveal any of Miss Pilgrim’s wondrous bits. I sensed even then that bits were not what it was about. All depended on context. Miss Pilgrim would disrobe and have her body made up by two other women for her Pictorial, and then…then… turning the page…and then she would put on a dressing gown and enter a photo studio and meet a serious and respectable looking photographer… and then…then…she would drop the gown to the floor and then… I turned the page…she would pose for the Centerfold.




Roger Ebert | Roger Ebert’s Journal | 5 February 2013

Many years ago I was in London and unhappily staying in a hotel room so small they had to store my empty luggage elsewhere on the premises. I could sit on the bed and rest my forehead against the wall opposite. Fed up, I walked out one fine Sunday morning to find a better hotel, but not an expensive one.

Nostalgically I returned to Russell Square, where I had gone on my first visit to the great city in 1961, steered by Europe on $5 a Day. At that time I found a room and full English breakfast for £2.50 a night. You might think it a shabby hovel. I was deliriously happy. I stayed up half the night writing a letter to Edna O’Brien, an Irish novelist I had a crush on. ‘”Here I am in a cheap hotel near Russell Square,” I wrote, “writing this letter in the middle of the night.” Those words alone would convince her of my romantic genius.