erik lundegaard

Eulogies for Roger

I found out yesterday after lunch. I'd known, vaguely, about his “leave of presence” from The Chicago Sun-Times, because I'd heard, via his Facebook page, about the return of the cancer, the new radiation treatments, the hospitalization. We get this sometimes. It's like a harbinger that takes the edge off the worse news. Someone shot at Reagan and missed? OK. Wait, they hit him? Oh. Kurt Cobain OD'ed in Italy but he's OK? OK. Wait,he killed himself? Oh.

This harbinger didn't take the edge off yesterday. Roger was a voice in my life since 1978. He'd actually gotten louder in more recent years thanks to all this. He felt closer.

Some eulogies:

For a generation of Americans - and especially Chicagoans - Roger was the movies. When he didn't like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive ...
-- Pres. Barack Obama

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.
-- Chaz Ebert, “Roger Ebert Dead at 70 After Battle with Cancer,” Chicago Sun-Times

It would not be a stretch to say that Mr. Ebert was the best-known film reviewer of his generation, and one of the most trusted. The force and grace of his opinions propelled film criticism into the mainstream of American culture. Not only did he advise moviegoers about what to see, but also how to think about what they saw.
-- Douglas Martin, “A Critic for the Common Man,” New York Times

He saw, and felt, and described the movies more effectively, more cinematically, and more warmly than just about anyone writing about anything. Even his pans had a warmth to them. Even when you disagreed with Roger you found yourself imagining the movie he saw, and loved (or hated) more than you did. ... I came late to film criticism in Chicago, after writing about the theater. Roger loved the theater. His was a theatrical personality: a raconteur, a spinner of dinner-table stories, a man who was not shy about his accomplishments. But he made room in that theatrical, improbable, outsized life for others.
-- Michael Phillips, “Farewell to a Generous Colleague and Friend,” Chicago Tribune

If not for them, I don't know what would have happened to me. I often tell Roger, “No Gene Siskel, no Roger Ebert, no film career.”
--Errol Morris, “Errol Morris on Ebert and Siskel,” on YouTube

But Roger made everything feel personal, didn't he? That's why we're seeing such grief upon the news of his death. We all felt as if we knew him. He turned the discussion of films that might've seemed too artsy or intimidatingly intellectual into comfortable conversations. At the same time, he remained capable of walking into a movie – any movie, in any genre – with an open mind after decades as a towering force in this business. He always wanted to be dazzled, just as he did when he was a kid.
--Christy Lemire, “AP Critic Remembers Colleague, Friend, Roger Ebert.”

Ebert argues that writing criticism is about expressing your values, so why not be honest about where you stand on the issues of the day? I didn't tell Ebert, 67, how I admired his productivity in the face of his serious health issues. He has already shrugged off comments like that in print, saying that the energy that once went into speech now is channeled into writing. He has written that he's not dying any faster than you or I, so why should he get special attention for doing what he loves?
-- Colin Covert, “My Afternoon with Ebert,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune

In a wonderful mutual interview Ebert and Siskel did for the Chicago Tribune in 1998, Ebert responds to Siskel’s criticism that he tends to go too easy on “cheap exploitative schlock” like The Players Club with this telling reply: “I also have the greatest respect for you, Gene, but if you have a flaw, it is that you are parsimonious with your enjoyment, parceling it out as if you are afraid you will prematurely expend your lifetime share.” Joy—in movies, in conversation, in language, in life—was not something that Roger Ebert meted out parsimoniously. He had more than enough to last a lifetime ...
--Dana Stevens, “Roger Ebert,” on Slate

Roger was always supportive, he was always right there for me when I needed it most, when it really counted — at the very beginning, when every word of encouragement was precious; and then again, when I was at the lowest ebb of my career, there he was, just as encouraging, just as warmly supportive. ... Really, Roger was my friend. It's that simple. Few people I've known in my life loved or cared as much about movies. "We all knew that this moment was coming, but that doesn't make the loss any less wrenching.
--Martin Scorsese, in a statement reprinted in USA Today

Feel free to post your own below.

Chicago Thanks Roger Ebert movie marquee

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Posted at 08:00 AM on Fri. Apr 05, 2013 in category Movie Reviews  


Erik wrote:

From Andrew O'Hehir:
Roger would undoubtedly prefer to be remembered today for championing a strange little late-‘70s documentary called “Gates of Heaven,” by a then-unknown director named Errol Morris, than for his legendary quip a decade ago about Vincent Gallo. (Roger, who was pretty chunky during his middle years, observed that he might be thin one day, but Gallo would always be the guy who made “The Brown Bunny.”) Those, of course, were just two extremes among the thousands of movies he reviewed in 46 years as a professional critic. In recent years, even as cancer attacked his body and he lost both the power of speech and the ability to eat solid food (after a 2006 operation that removed most of his lower jaw), Roger only seemed to gain more appetite for discussing movies, politics and life. Last year he reviewed more than 300 films even as his disease returned and worsened, and that’s without counting all the impromptu political commentary, health updates and Twitter debates.

Honestly, I have no idea how he managed it, and all without his tastes becoming calcified or predictable.

Comment posted on Fri. Apr 05, 2013 at 08:32 AM

Erik wrote:

BTW, in the O'Hehir/Ebert battle over “Secretariat,” I agree completely with O'Hehir, with whom I don't often agree.

Comment posted on Fri. Apr 05, 2013 at 08:35 AM

Erik wrote:

From Jeffrey Wells:
Less than two days after announcing that he would be cutting back on reviews due to a recurrence of his cancer, Roger Ebert has left the earth. I’m very, very sorry that he didn’t get more time as I know he wanted it and would have made excellent use of it, as he did during every waking minute of his life . My heart goes out to Chaz Ebert and to Roger’s friends and fans and the whole community…Jesus. This hurts.

Comment posted on Fri. Apr 05, 2013 at 08:36 AM

Will wrote:

I started reading Roger Ebert around age 8. He made me want to be a writer. Watching “Siskel and Ebert” made me love movies. He's been a guiding force in my life as long as I can remember.

I met him once a few years ago at the end of the film festival bearing his name. I was nervous about saying something stupid or accidentally asking him an open-ended question (he couldn't speak at that point). Instead, I shook his hand, told him I'd waited decades to meet him, that I ran a small film festival in Iowa, and that we were showing an animated film that year he'd recommended.

He smiled and gave me a thumbs up. Not just a thumbs up—THE thumbs up. My life was pretty much fulfilled at that point.

Thanks, Roger. The balcony is closed.

Comment posted on Fri. Apr 05, 2013 at 09:59 PM

Erik wrote:

Beautiful story, Will.

Comment posted on Sat. Apr 06, 2013 at 08:16 AM
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