The Balcony is Closed: R.I.P. Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert died today.

I’ve never met him. I’ve barely read anything he’s shared over the last few years, whether it was his books, blogs or reviews. I don’t know the man. But I owe him.

Roger Ebert showed me how to answer the “why” when it came to movies. Why was it good? Why would others enjoy it? Why am I still watching this crap? You could absolutely love going to the movies but you could also look at it with a critical eye. I remember watching him and Gene Siskel on PBS, analyzing the latest new movie with an unarguable “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” I understood the movie better. I didn’t always agree with his tastes but with any relationship, you take the good with the bad. I could never remember when Ebert & Siskel & The Movies was on but I always seemed to watch it by accident. Two in afternoon or morning, the minute I saw those two sitting across from each other in the aisle, I knew where I was spending my next 30 minutes.

Here’s a bit of trivia about the man pulled from Neil Steinberg’s article in the Chicago Sun Times today:

  • First movie reviewer to get the Pulitzer prize for criticism. (1975)
  • Reviewed for the Chicago Sun TImes for 46 years and and on TV for 31 years
  • His name was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2005
  • He was an early investor in Google 
  • The same year Ebert won the Pulitzer — 1975 — he also launched a new kind of television program: “Coming Soon to a Theater Near You” with Chicago Tribune movie critic Gene Siskel on WTTW-Channel 11. At first it ran monthly.
  • In 1978, the show, retitled “Sneak Previews,” moved to PBS for national distribution, and the duo was on their way to becoming a fixture in American culture.
  • Ebert reviewed as many as 285 movies a year, 
  • He wrote more books than any TV personality since Steve Allen — 17 in all.
  • Roger Joseph Ebert was born in Urbana on June 18, 1942, the son of Walter and Annabel Ebert. His father was an electrician at the University of Illinois, his mother, a bookkeeper. 
  • In 1997, unsatisfied with spending his critical powers “locked in the present,” he began a running feature revisiting classic movies, and eventually published three books on “The Great Movies” (and two books on movies he hated). A second column, his “Movie Answer Man” allowed readers to learn about intriguing little details of cinema that only a Roger Ebert knew or could ferret out.
  • He began his profesional writing career at 15, as a sportswriter covering the high school beat for the News-Gazette in Champaign-Urbana.

I love his quote in how he views reviewing particular films:

When you ask a friend if Hellboy is any good, you’re not asking if it’s any good compared to Mystic River, you’re asking if it’s any good compared to The Punisher. And my answer would be, on a scale of one to four, if Superman is four, then Hellboy is three and The Punisher is two. In the same way, if American Beauty gets four stars, then The United States of Leland clocks in at about two. (April 23, 2004)


For his final words, check out his last blog post. It’s a bit sad to read knowing all the ideas he had and what he still wanted to accomplish.

Film Festival Hawaii

Roger Ebert made movie reviewing intelligent and interesting. He watched movies because he loved them and wanted to discuss them and he helped a 10 year old kid learn the value of turning his brain on, not off, when he watched a movie.  Thanks Mr. Ebert for shifting my movie-going brain in to 4th gear and fostering my own love of film.

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