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Legendary film critic Roger Ebert dies at age 70

File photo.
File photo.

When one thinks of people involved with movies, the first who come to mind are the actors, directors and screenwriters. Their glamorous lives are exposed in the press and people look up to them in various ways, deservedly or not.  Rarely, though, does a film critic come to mind or leave such a noticeable footprint on the film world.

But this past week, the world lost somebody who did.  Roger Ebert’s death was a long time coming to most who followed his life. He had battled cancer for years and spent a good portion of his adult life in and out of hospitals. Two days before his death, he released a statement saying that he would not be reviewing films on a regular basis like he used to. Instead, his former television partner, Richard Roeper, and a selection of other critics would be taking over his site while he took a long leave of absence to recover from his illness. Within a couple days of this statement, on April 4,, 2013, Roger Ebert passed away at the age of 70.

Now, you may be thinking how silly it is to praise and remember the life of a man who made a living from watching and writing about movies. Not often are film critics talked about and referenced as much as he is, but it seems that Ebert’s death has at the same caliber as one of an actor or athlete — at least in his sphere of influence.

This can be explained in one sentence. Roger Ebert didn’t just love film, he was film. Ebert gave mainstream movie criticism as voice and changed the way all films could be looked at, no matter how good or bad. He had a long time career writing for the Chicago Sun Times, but it was his television show, “At The Movies” that put him and his co-host Gene Siskel on the map. “At The Movies” first aired in 1982 and was a movie criticism show in which Siskel and Ebert would review whatever film had come out that weekend and would express their thoughts and debate each other for a few solid minutes.

This show put movie discussions on the map. Not only did they write reviews on what they thought about films, but also they made a fun and respected televisions show that impressed upon people how culturally important and relevant these films may or may not be. This opened all sorts of doors for people everywhere to view film, not just as entertainment, but also as an art form that was just as important to society as paintings, novels and music. Siskel and Ebert never viewed themselves as television celebrities, even though people would treat them as such. Instead, they looked at themselves as nothing more than just avid film lovers who lived and breathed like everyone else.

When asked about why he loved movies so much, Ebert responded with, “If a movie is really working, you forget for two hours your Social Security number and where your car is parked. You are having a vicarious experience. You are identifying, in one way or another, with the people on the screen.”

Even after Siskel’s death in 1999, Ebert never took a break. He continued to discuss and debate film with various other critics with the hope of carrying out more and more conversations that would engage us in this moving art form. His new co-host, Richard Roeper, who also wrote for the Chicago Sun Times, came on as Ebert’s new counterpart in a new and improved world of film criticism. This is also when I personally began to watch the show. There wouldn’t be a movie released where I wouldn’t check out what these two men thought about it. I’d eagerly wait the result of the classic “Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down” rating system that was coined by Roger Ebert when he first started the show. I would grab the newspaper every Friday morning to see what the latest words from Ebert were about the films I would be seeing that night.  I even got inspired by them to write my own reviews and they made me think through some of my favorite movies and why I loved them. Ask any film critic or person who enjoys writing about film who inspired them; it’s more than likely that they will say “Roger Ebert.”

As a critic, but also an author, Ebert put a lot of humor into his work that made seeing even terrible movies entertaining. His colleagues would often say “Roger loved movies, even when he hated them.”  He had movie yearbooks published every year as an updated guide to all of his reviews and even published a “what not to see” guide of sorts entitled “Your Movie Sucks.”

Ebert’s death brought out a lot of emotions from anyone who enjoys movies as an art form. To most, he was the voice of the movies. He was an icon that made film criticism what it is today and opened the doors to many other areas in multimedia film journalism.

As I read his final words posted on his website, the last sentence still lingers within me: “So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.”

The world has lost a visionary and a creative and generous spirit who touched so many people all over the world. As Ebert would say at the end of each episode of “At The Movies,” “the balcony is now closed.”

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