In Memoriam: Roger Ebert

Rotten Tomatoes on memories of the great film critic.

I have a distinctly joyful memory at seeing new Roger Ebert reviews after his long break at the end of 2006. "Thank God he's back!" I thought. This was after the complications of his jaw surgery that took away his ability to speak, but the start of what may have been his most prolific period of writing. I didn't always agree with his stance on a movie, but it was always worth reading what he had to say. And he really capitalized on the opportunities for communication on the internet. In addition to writing his reviews, he wrote on his blog and had a must-follow Twitter account. Ebert's legacy will always loom large over anyone that's writing about movies, and I don't think anyone's going to fill his shoes anytime soon.
-Matt Atchity, Editor-in-Chief
I don't know what it is about Siskel & Ebert that hooked me the first time I saw their show on a Saturday evening. It's just two guys arguing and discussing movies. It was entertaining and informative. Just as I liked to see how my favorite actors fared at the box office, I also liked to see how they fared with critics.

When I was looking for a name to call my movie review aggregation site, I was thinking "Thumbs Down" - as a tribute to the show. How cool would it be to have a big thumb squashing a bad movie? I was naive. Luckily, Ebert, Siskel, Disney and cybersquatters had already bought domain names for every permutation of "Two Thumbs Up." I had to find a more obscure name -- Rotten Tomatoes -- and not have to face lawsuits by the show I revered.

I've only met him twice, but we've corresponded via email throughout the years. The first time I met him was at an event about online videos, and I think he was representing Yahoo! Internet Life magazine. What struck me immediately after our brief conversation was how enthusiastic and accepting of the internet he was. The second time was when we were at Cannes at one of those media parties; Chaz was with him.

He had always been very generous. He wrote about Rotten Tomatoes on Yahoo! Internet Life, the Chicago Sun-Times website, on his show, and even when he was on Jay Leno.

I feel grateful and privileged to have known him, a hero who has influenced me to watch movies and build movie websites. It's a sad day. Condolences to his wife Chaz and their grandkids.
-Senh Duong, Rotten Tomatoes Founder
I've probably spent more hours reading Roger Ebert than any other writer. My love affair with his writing began in high school, when I pulled my parents' copy of his Video Home Companion off a dusty shelf. Ebert had a way of writing about movies that was infectious, and his taste in movies was generous and accessible. Whether he was reviewing blockbusters or obscure foreign films, his writing was so nuanced and inviting that you could visualize specific moments with uncanny clarity; years later, when I finally got around to actually watching movies he'd reviewed, I was amazed at how similar they were to his descriptions. But above all, Ebert codified a philosophy of watching movies that's been a guide for me throughout the years: "A film is not what it's about, but how it's about it."

To make a long story short, I'm now a professional movie review reader, and I owe a lot to Roger Ebert. May he rest in peace.
-Tim Ryan, Senior Editor
My relationship with Mr. Ebert began when I was a kid sitting in front of a TV screen, wondering why he was speaking so passionately at that other gentleman about something as silly as movies. Back then, in the good old days of my softer, slightly less-formed skull, I just stared at the gorgeous big, glowing screen for laughs or something to do (unless I was watching the spaceship landing in E.T., which for some reason elicited such deep, bellowing screams of fear my parents said it was hard to imagine them coming from a little girl).

Siskel and Ebert reminded me of Bert and Ernie, so I liked them. But as new neurons formed in my brain and movies started to affect me more profoundly than the E.T. screams, the puzzle pieces fell into place. These guys were intelligent, articulate, and entertaining, just like the movies I enjoyed.

As I got older, I gravitated towards Ebert's writing, which served as a blueprint for how to really look inside a film and discuss it through an emotional, technical, and historical lens. His love of movies never seemed to waver, which I am truly in awe of. Once I had to sit through Dave Matthews picking a coconut up his butt in an Adam Sandler movie, I seriously reconsidered the whole "professional critic" thing. The fact that Ebert did it for decades is a testament to a man in his element, making the world a smarter place.

And to make things better, he not only inspired me to keep learning and striving to be better informed and focused in my work, he also helped me figure out how to maximize the potential of my rice cooker at home (seriously, if you haven't read The Pot and How to Use It, get thee to Amazon post-haste). Roger Ebert was such a bright star in this world, you didn't even have to see him in person to bathe in his light. Thank you for the inspiration, Roger.
-Grae Drake, Senior Editor
I've played video games my entire life and, before joining Rotten Tomatoes, was set on a career in game criticism. Thus, I have had a contentious interpretation of Roger Ebert, the man who, for whatever reason, took any chance to pillorize video games as a legitimate medium. Ebert's most infamous strikes lay in his 2005 review of Doom, and a combative 2010 blog post titled "Video games can never be art" which featured lines like, "Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form." On this particular topic, I did not learn much from him.

On other topics, I did. The way he wrote -- breathlessly consistent, his homespun wit instantly recognizable -- suggested he held the most honest-working relationship between a critic and the words he/she put on paper that this business had to offer. He wrote what he felt, he felt what he wrote. Ebert was multifaceted, offering long opinions on subjects nobody thought a man who had devoted his soul to cinema would have. I disliked many of these opinions, but they were reminders of how complex we all are and, given the talent or forum, how much we may have to say. Ebert had the most to say on Twitter, a second home he seemed to never leave. I was heavily involved with the Rotten Tomatoes Twitter account for several years, and I closely studied Ebert on how to do it right.

The great lesson from Ebert came in 2006. You know where this is going: Losing the ability to speak, health never to be fully recovered. Life is tragic. So is fate. And rarely do the two collude to be this ironic. "Roger Ebert, the on- air personality who revolutionized how we watched and made movies, has lost his voice." But a man in full faith of his self is not lost for long. I think Ebert took particular delight with the success of the internet, being an early supporter of Google search and a lifelong sci-fi fan. Ebert took to the web, dominated Twitter and the blogosphere in a way that was surprising to no one, dominating the same way as with his lot on television.

Ultimately, Ebert cooled down the rhetoric on video games, conceding that while his opinion remained, he did not have the time, will, nor experience with video games to deliver definitive arguments. Around the same time, his friend Martin Scorsese (who is producing a film on Ebert's life) shot Hugo in 3D, in his way claiming that a limit on what one could/should do (as Scorsese previously stated on 3D and digital) limits their own humanity. Ebert began strictly as a writer and he died strictly writing. He could not have predicted the external pain of his final years, but emotionally I could see he was the strongest he had ever been. And so, Roger Ebert's parting lesson for me: Be open to new experiences, be humble enough to re-examine your own, be curious, steadfast, and philosophical, for all this is a means to be young forever.
-Alex Vo, Editor
While I haven't kept up in recent years, I will always have fond memories of Mr. Ebert. It was expected nightly that my family would be tuned into "Sneak Previews," and then "At the Movies," on TV during dinner. Growing up, Siskel and Ebert were right there in the kitchen with us as we ate.

We all got excited about seeing the trailers and preview scenes for films we were looking forward to seeing (this was way before web instant magic). Hearing Siskel and Ebert discuss, debate and quarrel about each film provided more fun icing on the cake. So Siskel and Ebert really were pretty much like guests at our dinner table.

In anticipation of the Return of the Jedi episode of "At the Movies" in 1983, I fondly recall my brother and I specifically scheduling out the time to be home to watch it. Our parents were not allowed to schedule anything while the episode was on. No events, no activities and NO PHONE CALLS! We were flipping out when we realized the entire 30 minute episode would be devoted to RotJ. Nobody else was doing that at the time. We couldn't get this type of media anywhere else.

And that "two thumbs up" became a huge catchphrase in modern vocabulary further stresses what a huge influence Siskel and Ebert have had on our entire culture.

I often debate critic opinion but I tended to agree with Ebert more than some others, so I felt an extra bit of kinship there. It always seemed to me that he had a very open mind, even when it came to films that may not be so critically acclaimed.

When Siskel passed, I was saddened. And now I'm even more saddened because both of our dinner guests from my youth are gone. RIP Roger. Two thumbs way up.
-Kerr Lordygan, Contributor
Most people age, but it takes a special sort to become an elder statesman. Roger Ebert will be remembered by most for his long career in film criticism. For the generation of writers that came up in the 1990s and 2000s, Roger has a special distinction. Ebert was way ahead of the rest of the mainstream in encouraging the new generation of online writers. Upcomingmovies.com was a website that I started in my apartment in Oshkosh as a way of organizing what I knew about new movies before their release so that my online friends wouldn't have to see me in chatrooms reposting the same things ad infinitum. Roger Ebert was one of the site's earliest proponents, but it wasn't just one plug. When you were lucky enough to get Roger's attention, he was lavish with his promotion. I went on to be quoted several times in Roger's "Movie Answer Man" column, and was invited to be a V.I.P. guest at his Ebertfest in his hometown of Urbana-Champaign. My favorite memory of Roger, however, came when the "anime expert" didn't show up for the planned discussion of Grave of the Fireflies at Roger's 2nd Overlooked Film Festival in 2000. Roger asked me if I would join him on stage, and I said that I was honored, but I wasn't sure how much of an "anime expert" I was. He said, "Well, you know what anime is." Looking back now, I guess the point wasn't so much that Roger needed an expert, but that he saw in me a member of the new generation, and he wanted to give me a chance. That's what Roger meant to me, I think, and others of our generation. He was the established film writer who went out of his way to help us up the ladder, in a way that almost no one else among his peers ever did. I will also always watch out for the left aisle seat on the left aisle, second row from the back, at any film festival I ever attend. Everyone knows, that's Roger's seat.
-Greg Dean Schmitz, Contributor

Comments

Daniel Morris

Daniel Morris

Sad day. :-(

Apr 4 - 04:39 PM

Wade Tubbs

Wade Tubbs

Man... I just almost cried reading this.

Apr 4 - 04:56 PM

John Tyler

John *

Me too. Ebert shall be missed.

Apr 6 - 09:48 AM

Chris W.

Chris Wolff

R.I.P Roger. Though I didn't always agree with you, I will miss you. Thank you for all the great reviews.

Apr 4 - 05:03 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

CHICAGO-Calling the overall human experience "poignant," "thought-provoking," and a "complete tour de force," film critic Roger Ebert praised existence Thursday as "an audacious and thrilling triumph." "While not without its flaws, life, from birth to death, is a masterwork, and an uplifting journey that both touches the heart and challenges the mind," said Ebert, adding that while the totality of all humankind is sometimes "a mess in places," it strives to be a magnum opus and, according to Ebert, largely succeeds at this goal. "At times brutally sad, yet surprisingly funny, and always completely honest, I wholeheartedly recommend existence. If you haven't experienced it yet, then what are you waiting for? It is not to be missed." Ebert later said that while human existence's running time was "a little on the long side," it could have gone on much, much longer and he would have been perfectly happy.

(Care of The Onion)

Apr 4 - 05:05 PM

James Orlos

James Orlos

Thank you for that tribute.

Apr 6 - 10:59 PM

Movie Monster

Bentley Lyles

I'm gonna miss Ebert. He was one of my favorite critics. The film buff side of me is crying now.

Apr 4 - 05:12 PM

Brad Lomow

Brad Lomow

RIP Roger, always my favorite critic

Apr 4 - 05:19 PM

jake s.

jake suttles

agreed, there's a gaping hole a mile wide in movie reviewing as of yesterday and I dont know whos gonna fill it.

Apr 5 - 09:39 AM

Kate W.

Kate Williams

what Kate said its wonderful that one can make about $6500 in monthly by uploading music/video clips on HomeProfit, did you read the page at http://cutt.us/Career

Apr 12 - 11:57 AM

Dean Wirth

Dean Wirth

Sad day for movie buffs,there will never be another Roger.

Apr 4 - 05:21 PM

This comment has been removed.

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Try siskelandebert.org for some vintage vids.

Apr 4 - 05:32 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

Sorry dude. I thought I deleted that comment for my lower edit. Glad to hear the site is still up and the old episodes are still available. Thanks.

Apr 4 - 08:57 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Z'ight. The site was very buggy earlier, maybe due to traffic, so I ended up going to youtube anyway, where they do a full episode about slasher films from 1980.

Apr 4 - 10:59 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

Still amazes me what you can find on You Tube and what you CAN'T find on it. So I can't watch SNL on it but I can watch M (1931). Crazy internet...

Apr 4 - 11:57 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

As a nerd in high school, there were many Saturday nights I was at home waiting for the next new episode of Star Trek: TNG. I would very often watch At the Movies before hand and soon began looking forward to a new At the Movies as much as Star Trek! I began watching At the Movies at about age 12 and have watched nearly every episode. (You use to be able to watch them online in a huge archive). I used to love seeing Ebert and Siskel shred each other's choices. ("You liked Carnosaur!?", Siskel to Ebert). I used to get so mad at them when they shredded my movie choices. ("You liked Johnny Mnemonic!?", Siskel and Ebert to me). But mostly, I loved seeing these guys talk movies. They showed me how to view films in another light and shaped a lot of my opinions on films consciously and probably subconsciously.

I recommend watching Nostalgia Critics video on Siskel and Ebert. The editorial is very relatable to movie lovers, IMO.

Apr 4 - 05:30 PM

Ocram Immorto

Ocram Immorto

Aye, Doug Walker sure did express his emotional passion for Ebert, he was completely human in that video yet still trying to manage humor.

Apr 5 - 01:44 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Try siskelandebert.org for some vintage vids.

Apr 4 - 05:32 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

Sorry dude. I thought I deleted that comment for my lower edit. Glad to hear the site is still up and the old episodes are still available. Thanks.

Apr 4 - 08:57 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

Z'ight. The site was very buggy earlier, maybe due to traffic, so I ended up going to youtube anyway, where they do a full episode about slasher films from 1980.

Apr 4 - 10:59 PM

infernaldude

Infernal Dude

Still amazes me what you can find on You Tube and what you CAN'T find on it. So I can't watch SNL on it but I can watch M (1931). Crazy internet...

Apr 4 - 11:57 PM

Jasen LaBorde

Jasen LaBorde

Rest in peace Roger. We will always share a passion for good story telling through the medium of film.

Apr 4 - 05:49 PM

Timothy Sprague

Timothy Sprague

Great job. I literally don't think I would have gone to film school if it hadn't been for Siskel & Ebert. They not only introduced me to cult films, but great artists like Bergman and Fellini. Their review of Das Boot still sticks in my memory, as well. I really wanted to see these foreign and indie films that they only showed in the city! This was when my friends and I would have to travel in to the Nickelodeon Theatre in Boston for movies like Repo Man, Liquid Sky and Fanny & Alexander.

Apr 4 - 05:59 PM

Matthew R.

Matthew Reimer

RIP Roger, my heart goes out to his family and friends. :(

Apr 4 - 06:07 PM

Stepping Razor

Stepping Razor

It's going to be hard to see future reviews for all new movies and not wonder, "What would Ebert think of this movie"? Even with the growing hatred for movie critics, Ebert was arguably the only one that still garnered respect, even when people disagreed with his reviews.

Apr 4 - 06:11 PM

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