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I guess I just like liking things

Roger Ebert, 1942-2013

Roger Ebert, 1942-2013

Film critic Roger Ebert lost his battle with cancer yesterday at the age of 70, just two days after telling us he was going to have to “reduce his presence” because of the cancer’s reemergence. He was the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years, longer than I’ve been alive.

I remember watching Siskel & Ebert At the Movies occasionally when I was younger. I wasn’t allowed to watch much TV, so I don’t remember exactly how I was able to see the show here and there, but I remember it was very exciting to see the clips from movies and hear the two of them talk heatedly about why they did or didn’t like it. Honestly, I never liked Ebert as much as I liked Siskel back then – maybe my tastes more aligned with what Siskel’s were, or maybe it was Ebert’s overbearing manner, I don’t really know. I’ve come to understand that they both were outsized personalities, egotistical, somewhat jerkish, and all of the other stuff that goes along with it. But you couldn’t deny their love of film, their desire for films to be the best they could be. Hearing the two of them talk about a film was one of the best ways to understand that film a little better.

I don’t generally read film reviews, at least not for the reasons most people do. By the time a movie hits the theater, I usually know whether or not I want to see it, and I have a pretty good idea of how much I’ll like it (and, even given all that, I still go see each new Resident Evil movie when it comes out). Movie reviews are more helpful to me after I’ve seen the movie in question. At that point, the review helps me focus more on what I liked and didn’t like about the movie, maybe showing me an aspect I didn’t consider. And there are, of course, times when I didn’t like a movie but couldn’t articulate exactly why until a review put the exact right words, words I would then use later when describing it to someone else, prefaced with “a review I read put it this way…”

I took a Literary Criticism class in college more because my favorite teacher ever was teaching it than because I needed it for credit. I was really looking forward to learning how to dissect books and understand more about how to look at art with a discerning eye. To my dismay, I was very, very bad at the class. Like, horrible. I couldn’t get it, at all. It wasn’t just that I saw what needed to be done and just couldn’t do it as well as I was expected to, it was that I completely and utterly could not even grasp the basics of how to understand that people could even do this type of thing. My teacher took pity on me in my distress and let me approach things from the most basic method (I have long since forgotten that method’s name, but it boiled down to “gut reaction”), but I struggled with even that.  When I read a good criticism, it makes sense to me, but I can’t get there myself.

In many ways, that early love of watching Siskel & Ebert talk about films coupled with my inability to talk about motivations, framing, editing, style, film stock choice, and all the other stuff is what has given rise to this very site. My love of film is much like Ebert’s, but since I can’t see those things, much less tell you why they’re good or bad, I celebrate the stuff I like. I hope my exuberance gets you to try something you might not have otherwise, or helps you to think more positively about something, or even just reminds you of how much you liked that thing, too.

No, I don’t have any great connection with Roger Ebert, none that would warrant a person caring two licks what I might have to say about him. He was a guy that’s was always just there during the course of my life. I didn’t always seek out his opinion on movies, but I did always appreciate his love of the medium. In that way we were connected.

In situations like this, I can’t help but consider John Donne’s poem, no matter how trite or overused some might think it is:

Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.

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