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Commentary: Wonderful life, career of Roger Ebert ought to be celebrated following death

Courtesy of MCT

As I made a routine check of the news on the web around 3:30 p.m. Thursday, I was crushed to see that the legendary film critic Roger Ebert had died at the age of 70. I read on Wednesday that his cancer had once again returned, and he would need to take a leave of absence from the Chicago Sun-Times. I was encouraged by the fact that he had overcome cancer in the past, and I was confident that he would be back to giving his unique, well-informed spin on the coming movies in no time.

That’s why it was so difficult and shocking to see he was gone just about 24 hours later. When you think of the title “film critic,” it is almost impossible to not immediately think of Ebert or his old partner-in-crime Gene Siskel. Ebert’s reviews may have not always been the most agreeable (for example, he famously gave the same three-star rating to “Cop and a Half” in 1993 and “The Godfather, Part II” in 1974), but he was always willing to back up his opinions, and it was always clear that his movie reviews came from a deep knowledge and appreciation of the cinema.

While based in Chicago, Ebert’s writings were available to a massive national audience. Many considered his takes on movies to be the be-all, end-all opinion, and consulted with his thoughts on the movie before shelling out the money to go to the theater.

Ebert is probably best known for the legendary television series “Siskel & Ebert At The Movies,” in which the duo would do nothing during the 30-minute broadcast except discuss recent films. It may sound like a very dry program, but the chemistry, bickering and knowledge of the two made it one of the most highly regarded shows of all time.

Unfortunately, I was too young to be interested in the program when Siskel passed away from brain cancer in 1999. However, I have watched many of their old reviews online in recent years and always thoroughly enjoy them. Their takes on movies that I have both seen and never heard of always remain fresh, informative and downright entertaining, especially when they disagree on each other’s opinions. 

Their way with words when they loathed a movie is also legendary. If you ever want to see one of the most entertaining, scathing reviews ever created, check out the pair ripping Rob Reiner’s “North” to shreds in 1994.

While Ebert continued the show with co-hosts such as Richard Roeper after Siskel’s death, it failed to bring the same chemistry and entertainment that the original duo mastered. Unfortunately, he could no longer continue with the show in 2006, when thyroid cancer treatment resulted in the loss of his voice. This did not affect his written reviews, however, which were, and continued to be, at the top of the game. His columns were also fascinating and always well written, and brought out his unmatched ability to express his passion for the art in every paragraph.

One quote by Ebert that has always resonated with is when he famously said, “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” This not only changed the way I look at films, but can be applied to opinions on anything.

At the risk of sounding too cliché, I would like to give two thumbs down on this awful news, but two thumbs all the way up on the wonderful life and career of Roger Ebert. I can only hope he is able to re-claim his rightful seat on the balcony next to Gene somewhere.

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