Meet a Critic: Roger Ebert!

RT chats with America's favorite critic.

Wishing him a speedy recovery from his surgery, we're re-posting our Meet a Critic chat with Roger Ebert -- Pulitzer Prize-winning author, screenwriter, and America's most recognizable (and beloved) film critic.

To paraphrase Roger Ebert himself, "I cannot speak, but I can write." Although cancer silenced the nation's best-loved film critic last year, Ebert (ranked by Forbes as the number one pundit in America) recently returned to the movies with a vengeance, publishing to his website an output of new reviews and Answer Man columns that puts entire fully-staffed newsrooms to shame. The qualities that made Ebert a critical celebrity for decades -- his wonderfully dry wit, deft writing, and a yearning to be moved by cinema -- of course remain intact, but while he's currently aided by a speaking computer, he shares with RT his hope that he'll soon recover his own voice.

There are many reasons why Ebert is the heart of the critical community, and in the hearts of the moviegoing public. His influential review show, begun on public access television in 1975 with fellow critic Gene Siskel as Opening Soon at a Theater Near You, blazed a path for the celebrity critic by merging serious film analysis with America's penchant for spectatorship. Ebert's reverence for great films (and irreverence for bad ones) gave birth to the coinage of terms like "Dead Teenager Movie" and the idea of an "evil" zero-star film (see: Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo). And as many know, everyone's favorite critic penned a handful of delightfully camp B-movies with pal Russ Meyer: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), Up! (1976), and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979).

Catch up with Roger Ebert in our interview below, and look for two of his forthcoming books (Roger Ebert's Four-Star Reviews 1967-2007 due January from Andrews & McNeel, and a book on Martin Scorsese from the University of Chicago Press in the autumn).


Name: Roger Ebert

Age: 65

Hometown: Chicago

Years reviewing film: 40



How are you these days? (We all miss seeing you on the show and at festivals!)

Roger Ebert: I am cancer-free, and looking forward to what I hope will be a final surgery in late January, in which I may regain the ability to speak. I attended the Toronto Film Festival and plan to be back at my own Ebertfest in April and Cannes in May.

We hear you've been using a computerized British voice named Lawrence to speak...

RE: Nope, I've got an American accent now. It came with the new Leopard OS for my Mac.

Diving in: Why and how did you become a critic?

RE: I wrote a weekly column for The Daily Illini at Illinois which sometimes involved movies, and did some interviews and think pieces for the Sun-Times before being named to fill the vacancy in April 1967.

Before reviewing film you were a sports writer. How did that transition happen, and how would you compare/contrast the two fields?

RE: I was a sports writer in high school, for my local daily. Not an intern, an actual staff writer. Both fields involve reporting on what you saw with a great deal of subjectivity and latitude in language and style.

Fill in the blank: "If I wasn't a professional film critic, I'd be an op-ed columnist or a professor of English literature.

Which filmmaker (living or not) would you most like to meet, and why?

RE: I've met most of the living and recently departed. Going back further, Buster Keaton, of course.

What is your favorite film?

RE: Citizen Kane. I know it's the standard answer, but what can I say? I've taught it a shot at a time at least 40 times, recorded the commentary track, and could look at it again right now.

Who is your favorite director?

RE: Alphabetically: Altman, Herzog, Keaton, Scorsese.

What's the worst movie you've ever seen?

RE: Too many to choose from.

What's the best movie you've ever written? (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Up!, or Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens) And where did your two noms de plume, R. Hyde and Reinhold Timme, come from?

RE: BVD, of course. The pseudonyms came from Russ Meyer. It was no secret they belonged to me.

Who do you think is a shoo-in come Oscar night?

RE: Diablo Cody (Juno).

Comments

See-Jay

Chris *******

Hello Roger.

Dec 18 - 06:52 PM

jokerboy1991

jack giroux

hope you feel better soon, your my favorite critic. I hope to see you again soon and your infamous thumbs back on TV.

Dec 18 - 07:07 PM

shorndaddy

Steven Horn

Thanks for the years and years of good reads, Roger.

Dec 18 - 07:18 PM

Silverevilchao

Silver The Evil Chao

FEH. I hate this guy, he said that video games can't be art.

Dec 18 - 07:19 PM

insanemansam5

Samuel Ewing

That's true but he also allowed for an extensive discussion of whether or not video games could be considered art that has been unrivaled anywhere else on the internet.

Dec 18 - 07:50 PM

citizenjames

James Ford

i was in the hospital for a month when i was fifteen and my dad brough some books from home and one of them was the 1987 Roger Ebert Yearbook. i read it cover to cover. i don't mean referenced it, i read every damn review from cover to cover. to this day i can tell you plots and credits movies i still haven't seen.

the problem with film criticism is it only works for art. entertainment is subjective. there is no point in reviewing ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS because it's a movie designed for five year olds who want to see talking animals. nobody is going to tell their children we're going because roger ebert gave it zero stars. JACKASS, JERRY BRUCKHEIMER, ADAM SANDLER and most summer tentpoles and horror movies are critic-proof. unfortunately critics think their opinion on everything matters and if they didn't review commercial films nobody would watch. if critics were actually valuable to what people wanted to watch, studios would hire them as focus groups and not randoms from a mall.

SILVEREVILCHAO: i side with ebert on this. games are fun to play and much less entertaining to watch. someone once said most games are finding out how to make thirty seconds of fun entertaining for six hours. in most games you can remove two thirds of it and not lose characterization, story or subtext. those levels exist just to give you something to do. they are the maze to the ending. for some reason gameplayers think that art or hollywood legitimizes it (the same way nascar drivers think they're athletes). is chess art? tennis? football? we could make a story up for that and say that king has taken the princess and this king must use his army to defeat them which is no different that aliens are attacking now kill them. it's just enough story to justify the actions but does that make it art?

Dec 19 - 06:22 AM

Raziel5000

Lee Mountford

Citizenjames - no one is saying that all games are art, and certainly not the type of games you are suggesting. But there are games out there that qualify as art, in my opinion. They are few but they are there.

I'll take Silent Hill 2 as an example - to me this is as much a work of art as any horror movie. And I'm not talking slashers, I'm talking Rosmary's baby etc - generaly considered a work of art. It is as deep, mature and makes you think just as much. It had a more profound effect on me than any horror I've seen. You had to work hard to understand the full story - not every piece of information is given to you on a plate. On top of that it had an atmosphere that was unrivaled (for me). Its themes were as strong as any film you care to mention. And it wasnt afriad of crossing boundaries (and not just for shock effect, there was reasons for this). On top of this, it was interactive, movies are not! Games have the advantage of being able to draw you deeper into the experience for this very reason. So how can this not be art?
I'm not saying a game where you run around as a hedgehog collecting gold rings and jumping on robots counts as art - but things have moved on since then.

And also, why would tennis and football not be considered an art? Martial arts are considered an art form. You need just as much dedication to become good at, say, tennis. And it can be a beautiful game (it bores me to tears - but I realize that just because I dont like it, that doesnt stop it from being an art form).

Basically, what it comes down to is the person involoved. But what gives one person the right to judge what is and isnt art? It might not be to them, but that doesnt make it an overall fact. A hater of movies could very easily say 'Movies arent art - there just loud, dumb moving images designed for people without the brains or imagination to read a good novel'. And people used to say that. But thats a broad, ignorant and sweeping statment with no basis in fact. We all know that. Same thing for video games in my opinion. There is a lot of crap. There are a lot that are just plain fun. But there ARE those games out there that reach the same levels of art that movies do - if given the chance.

Dec 19 - 07:25 AM

C urtis

Curtis Swanson

I would think that the critics are writing reviews with their audience in mind. People will always go and see horrible movies..but the critics write for people who would rather absorb a decent plot than ooh and ahh at the silly moving shapes in front of them. I'm sure that they're aware of the fact that crap movies will continue to make millions. Ebert's opinion matters to me...and..it kinda seems like maybe it matters to other's as well.

Why would you bash critics in a comment on a website completely dedicated to critics.

"someone once said most games are finding out how to make thirty seconds of fun entertaining for six hours" -- was this somebody from Bungie?

Dec 19 - 07:36 AM

jasper de large

jasper de large

but at the same time, he's probably more open-minded about the video-gaming experience than the majority of film critics.

Dec 19 - 06:44 PM

Bardego

Robert Hamer

Hope all is well, Ebert. But seriously, what is with giving a bad review to The Usual Suspects? Seriously.

Dec 18 - 07:22 PM

kenekgo

David Blandino

Man, he's just the best! Love reading his reviews. Hope everything goes well on january!

Dec 18 - 07:24 PM

a_sad_un-sorry_hashbrown

Shawn Hasinger

He never said they can't be art, he just said no game has reached the level of beauty and sophistication that films have.

Dec 18 - 07:42 PM

TheAnswerMVP2001

Snipes .

Ah, I beg to differ... Final Fantasy X was more beautiful and sophisticated than most films out there today.

Dec 18 - 08:08 PM

interestingfilms

Luke Davis

http://youtube.com/watch?v=BU8-e-C4Uy0

Dec 18 - 08:32 PM

Tollens

Thaco Latveria

Final Fantasy X was soulless crap. Keep sticking it to them. Even when I don't agree with Mr. Ebert I still usually understand why he disliked a film. My favorite critic.

Dec 18 - 10:28 PM

yifes

huh what

I beg to differ. Final Fantasy X is the soap opera of the video game world: a cliche, overproduced piece of tripe made for 14 year old kids.

Dec 27 - 09:04 AM

insanemansam5

Samuel Ewing

What is the state of current film criticism?

RE: Flourishing, in great part because of the internet.

What a wonderful and simply true answer I get sick and tired of critics saying the internet is bad for film criticism when the internet has allowed me to read about and become aware of so many films I would have never known of otherwise.

Dec 18 - 07:46 PM

JPski3332007

John Peterson

I agree with you totally. Never has accessibility to film criticism been more at our fingertips. It also is democratic, giving amateurs a chance.

Dec 31 - 10:04 AM

insanemansam5

Samuel Ewing

That's true but he also allowed for an extensive discussion of whether or not video games could be considered art that has been unrivaled anywhere else on the internet.

Dec 18 - 07:50 PM

TheAnswerMVP2001

Snipes .

Ah, I beg to differ... Final Fantasy X was more beautiful and sophisticated than most films out there today.

Dec 18 - 08:08 PM

interestingfilms

Luke Davis

http://youtube.com/watch?v=BU8-e-C4Uy0

Dec 18 - 08:32 PM

Tollens

Thaco Latveria

Final Fantasy X was soulless crap. Keep sticking it to them. Even when I don't agree with Mr. Ebert I still usually understand why he disliked a film. My favorite critic.

Dec 18 - 10:28 PM

yifes

huh what

I beg to differ. Final Fantasy X is the soap opera of the video game world: a cliche, overproduced piece of tripe made for 14 year old kids.

Dec 27 - 09:04 AM

interestingfilms

Luke Davis

http://youtube.com/watch?v=BU8-e-C4Uy0

Dec 18 - 08:32 PM

Lesmana

Ferry Lesmana

Me personally, the only people deserve to be a film critic are filmmakers. Cmon, some guy that hasnt made a movie (or little of it) tells this movie sucks and the other's not.....

Come to think of it, almost everyone who ever has a taste of making a film feel reluctant to badmouthed a movie, no matter how poorly it's made. Why?? I'd like to think Because they understand, it ain't no walking in the park......

I have never made a movie, and has numerously express my dissapointments or admiration for a movie with another movie buffs (as in here), which I think is just fine.....But to "attack" a movie or it's makers practically for the whole world, and regarded as "experts" on that while never make a movie (or little of it) themselves??? Cmon....

When Spielberg or jackson or perhaps even the wayans decided to become a critic, let me know...I'll surely regarded their opinions more

Dec 18 - 08:33 PM

C urtis

Curtis Swanson

This is a rediculous opinion. If I am a sports commentator you wouldn't expect to hear me comment on a particular player's horrible mistake..then follow up with.."Well..Gee...football is kinda hard..so...I guess I take back what I said."

I suppose this is a bad example because I'm sure most commentators played in highschool but surely you get the point. I shouldn't have to earn my right to share my opinion no matter how harsh.

Dec 19 - 07:22 AM

LillyVon

Gabrielle *no way*

What a stupid theory! Is that to say the only people judging Miss Universe have to be previous winners, because if you are not you cannot judge beauty????? Or the only people that can be sports commentators HAVE to have done that sport professionally themselves? That is pretty much what you are saying about film critics and it's the dumbest idea I've heard. You cant be serious - because if you are it shows how naive you are.

Dec 22 - 04:14 AM

Dave the Destroyer

Dave Hustava

"Only those that do should be allowed to judge,", eh?

Okay for you, then, Chief - but if you ever get stuck with a bad lawyer in a criminal case, or a hack doctor chops out the wrong organ, or a crooked cop shoots yer innocent kid dead, just remember - since you're not a lawyer, or a doctor, or a cop, then you're not allowed to complain or litigate or expect any recompense or justice. Ever. It's just Tough Titties For You, so Suck It Up and Quit Whining.

Got that straight, you moron?

Mr Ebert, swine like that choad will NEVER understand the chasm between their opinions and actual facts. If you have any legacy at all, it should be the illumination of that principle. Nobody, except possibly Noam Chomsky, did a better job of showing readers the difference between those two concepts. If there's a gang of narcissistic loudmouths too stupid or scared to read the opinions of anybody that might disagree with them - and Brother, they ARE out there - then It Ain't Your Fault.

Keep watching and writing and whipping on the Bad Stuff - Hell, part of the whole POINT is that not everybody will agree - but in the best cases, not agreeing will force them to exercise those critical thinking skills. They might even discover that it feels GOOD to be able to defend their postions with something besides "I Didn't Like It So Nobody Else Better, Either".

Feb 6 - 08:41 AM

pom_pom288

Matt Reynolds

While I am often disagreeing with his reviews, there is no denying the impact he has had on the film industry. I wish him the best of luck during this difficult time.

Dec 18 - 08:35 PM

arendr

Arend Anton

Nice read. But are you guys going through every Chicago critic or something?

Dec 18 - 09:25 PM

Jen Yamato

Jen Yamato

I know, we just blew through the Windy City! Strange coincidence!

Dec 20 - 11:51 PM

The Forbidden Douchebag

shal not be told shal not be told

Yay! It's Mr. Ebert!

Dec 18 - 09:35 PM

Tollens

Thaco Latveria

Final Fantasy X was soulless crap. Keep sticking it to them. Even when I don't agree with Mr. Ebert I still usually understand why he disliked a film. My favorite critic.

Dec 18 - 10:28 PM

elmokajaky

Elmo Kajaky

Get well soon, Mr. Ebert. And please, play Bioshock.

Dec 18 - 11:09 PM

iheartbrucecampbell

Jordan Melcher

the one critic i trust. i may not always agree with him (in fact, recently i haven't agreed with him much at all), but he's steered me in the right direction more consistently than any other critic out there. and his great movies section is an invaluable resource.

Dec 19 - 12:20 AM

filmfestive

K K

More than 30 years ago, Roger taught me (through a PBS series he hosted on Ingmar Bergman) how to look at film and I have been grateful ever since. Although I strongly disagree with your review of "The Natural", I miss you and wish you the best of luck with your upcoming surgery.

Dec 19 - 02:13 AM

filmfestive

K K

More than 30 years ago, Roger taught me (through a PBS series he hosted on Ingmar Bergman) how to look at film and I have been grateful ever since. Although I strongly disagree with your review of "The Natural", I miss you and wish you the best of luck with your upcoming surgery.

Dec 19 - 02:14 AM

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