Meet a Critic: Roger Ebert!
RT chats with America's favorite 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
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).