On April 4, 2013, legendary film critic and journalist, Roger Ebert, died at age 70 after a long battle with cancer and various surgeries to repair a fractured hip.
His death has prompted a response from people both within and outside the film industry, with even President Barack Obama saying in a statement to the Associated Press that “The movies won’t be the same without Roger…”
As many people will tell you, it’s not how a man dies, but how a man lives that matters, so let’s take a look at the man whose unique style of criticism served to inspire many other film critics to this day.
His career as a film critic began in 1967 when Ebert began writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, a paper he continued to write for during the remainder of his life. He also worked as a screenwriter, co-writing films such as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, as well as working as a guest lecturer for the University of Chicago from the 70s onward.
In 1975, Ebert became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism
That same year, he began co-hosting a weekly review show titled Sneak Previews that was produced locally for a Chicago public broadcasting station. He would later be joined by Gene Siskel when the show was picked up by PBS for national distribution. Here was where the famous “two thumbs” reviews gained national attention.
Siskel and Ebert would leave PBS to produce a similar syndicated show titled At the Movies with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. This would then be followed by Siskel & Ebert & the Movies, produced by Buena Vista Entertainment, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. After the death of Gene Siskel in 1999, Ebert continued the series with a rotation of co-hosts until the position was permanently filled by Richard Roeper until the end of the show’s run.
After losing his voice in an operation to treat his thyroid cancer, he began writing online film reviews in addition to writing for the Chicago Sun-Times and producing another review show for PBS titled Ebert Presents: At the Movies. This show featured traditional reviews by Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky as well as a segment titled “Roger’s Office,” where a review written by Ebert would be read by Bill Kurtis.
Ebert described his style of critic as “relative, not absolute”
He reviewed films for what he felt would be the prospective audience with some consideration as to its overall value. His rating system ranged from half a star for the lowest quality films to 4 stars for a high quality film. However, if a film was bad enough, it wouldn’t receive a star at all.
Ebert would occasionally employ sarcasm when reviewing movies he considered bad, while being direct at other times, most famously in his review of the 1994 comedy North.
All of the information outlined is just a tiny fraction of what’s available and doesn’t even begin to cover the majority of his accomplishments. What can ultimately be said about Roger Ebert is that he had a genuine passion for cinema. His reviews were both informative and entertaining.
As a young film critic who reviews movies on the internet and for this paper, I can’t help but look upon his life with a great degree of reverence and respect. He will be greatly missed, but his legacy will live on for many years to come.