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April 4, 2013

TT: Roger Ebert, R.I.P.

roger_ebert_american_society_cinematographers_h_2012.jpgWilfrid Sheed nailed Roger Ebert, intentionally or not, in Max Jamison, in which he spoke in passing of a movie critic who was "the kind of man who said, 'Whatever became of Anna May Wong?' and meant every word of it. He had the true-blue, twelve-year-old Captain Ranger heart of a veteran film reviewer."

Ebert, who died yesterday, was at bottom mainly interested in pop culture, something that I suspect is true of most people who write regularly about film, the ultimate mass medium. But he was genuinely responsive to high art as well, and if he was more a reviewer than a critic, he almost always had sensible things to say about the films that he saw. After you read his reviews, you knew pretty much what to expect if you went to see them for yourself, which is no small achievement.

He was, in short, the very best kind of middlebrow, an earnest enthusiast who took his work seriously. Though he never gave me the thrill of illumination that I get from reading Otis Ferguson or David Thomson or (sometimes) Pauline Kael, I rarely failed to profit from seeing what he had to say, and I profited in a diferent way from watching him die by inches in public, carrying himself to the very end with a courage and dignity that were admirable in every way. We should all be so brave when our time comes.

UPDATE: I ran across this quote from Ebert in one of his newspaper obituaries:

No matter what your opinion, every review should give some idea of what the reader would experience in actually seeing the film. In other words, if it is a Pauly Shore comedy, there are people who like them, and they should be able to discover in your review if the new one is down to their usual standard.

He practiced what he preached.

Posted April 4, 2013 9:13 PM

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