Today, Roger Ebert passed away after his continued battle with cancer at the age of 70. Much will be written about Ebert’s legacy in the coming days and what he did for film, film criticism and more recently social criticism. I won’t dare try to duplicate what more accomplished writers will release in the coming days. However, I would like to offer my own tribute to Ebert. I made the argument to a friend earlier today after hearing about Ebert’s death that it’s sad we as a society tend to only reflect on someone’s accomplishments after they’ve died. It’s done from a place of good intentions, but it seems as if we should make the effort to honor people publicly more often when they’re around to feel our true appreciation. That being said, I would like to share my own brief tribute to Ebert.
On Feb. 17, 2010, I wrote the following in one of my idea journals about film, writing and Roger Ebert and how they all interacted with my life at that point.
“Like many out there, writing is a release. It’s an expressive outlet that allows for saying things more clearly than could be spoken. For me it can and tends to be reflective. It’s in this regard I am reflective today. I initially went to college unsure of what I wanted to do for a career. I took classes that I thought would give me a sign. It was through this that I stumbled into filmmaking and film studies. I love movies and thought that if I could get a degree and eventually be paid to watch and make movies it would be ideal. I learned an enormous amount about film and its process through those first few years. Film studies developed a better understanding and appreciation for the art.
Yet, my focus shifted to filmmaking. However, late into my sophomore year I became disillusioned with the school and faculty in filmmaking. I wasn’t taught how to do it. I was taught what the faculty thought was good. I watched classmates struggle to prove that their desire to make narrative films in an avant-garde/ experimental school wasn’t acceptable. A classmate made that argument that if he made a film, made changes thematically as the teacher wanted, he’d get a good grade. He argued that the school preached – be your own filmmaker and follow your instincts – yet if he wanted to actually make a film as he envisioned, not as the teacher preferred, he would fail the class. It was this contradictory teaching flaw that ultimately pushed me out the door.
I changed majors shortly after. I left a subjective and what felt like undefined grading structure. I changed to the factually and concrete medium of Journalism. It could be argued that those two years in film have defined a great deal of the person I am today. I believe that the combination of film and journalism are what helps me understand life, art and media more clearly. It is a wonderful feeling and I don’t regret my choices at all. Print journalism may be making dramatic shifts, but it isn’t dying. It lives online where the audience is seemingly infinite.
This brings me to Roger Ebert. In this month’s issue of Esquire, Ebert was interviewed, photographed and profiled in an incredibly intimate and personal article. The personal story was well written and reminded me of Ebert’s influence on my life. Reading the article inspired me. It made me want to write more, watch move movies and challenge myself to stretch out of my comfort levels.
Ebert’s daily struggles put my personal frustrations into perspective. Through it all Ebert continues to pump out reviews and inspired writing. Moving forward I want to make a conscious effort to review and write about the world around me. I am increasingly frustrated creatively – a solution to which is directly in my control. Goals are set forth here. No longer an observer only, moving forward I will be a more direct responder and critic. Information dissemination and education continue to be important. If all else fails, I will in the end know I did this for myself.”
After that day, I began writing more. I wrote extensively on my first blog, I To Eyes, reviewing music, film and tv when I felt inspired. I read more non-fiction, including books written about film by Ebert. Then in November 2011, I co-founded and ran Cultural Transmogrifier with friends until March 2013. Since putting CT on hiatus, I’ve maintained writing on this website about what inspires me further. Roger Ebert inspired me long before I wrote that piece in my journal, but it wasn’t until I had finished school that I appreciated him more for his writing, than just his interpretation of film. Ebert will leave a legacy for future critics that won’t be forgotten. Thank you Roger for sharing your gift of language with this world. I for one sincerely appreciated and learned from it. Rest in Peace.