I mean, for fuck’s sake. He only posted, what, two or three days ago about the discovery of that new cancerous growth and the “leave of presence” it would require… and, well, there he is, gone already. I have to admit to never getting into film critics in the way I get into films and film makers, so the debates still provoked about the merits of Pauline Kael et al among the cinephiles mean bugger all to me. Ebert, while not someone I followed regularly or anything like that, was nonetheless a bit of an exception to the rule; if I was going to follow a film critic, he would be the one.
Luke Buckmaster at Crikey offers a nice eulogy, which I quote in part:
But a regular complaint about Ebert’s reviews, written in a clean-cut style with generous portions of plot description, was that he simply liked too many movies. Visit his website (crashed from server overload at the time of publishing) and you’ll see clear evidence of a critic who gave the vast majority of the things he saw a pretty positive appraisal.
And if Ebert’s main “crime” was that he loved movies too much, every film critic in the world has another reason to feel indebted to him. Ebert brought more than just a passion for film analysis to the masses. He brought a passion for movie loving.
And that’s a pretty important consideration. I like watching films for blogging purposes, but I would hate to be doing it for a living. I’ve done it on a voluntary basis for 2SER (I did Celluloid Dreams for 12 years—and, for what it’s worth, it looks like I might be getting back into doing film stuff on radio, but that’s beside the point for now), and my experience of that has, frankly, made me fear the thought of doing it professionally. It used to be what I wanted to do with my life, and it’s a dream that’s fallen by the wayside. Just imagine the amount of bullshit you’d be obligated to sit through for review (at least on 2SER I may have sat through some unavoidable shit, but I surely managed to dodge some bullets at least). At some point in their career as a critic I imagine every professional film reviewer must come to hate films just because of the sheer amount of crap they have no choice but watch. Hell, I almost got that way myself just working as a volunteer on Celluloid Dreams… The nice thing about Ebert is that somehow he seemed to have avoided that, or at least overcame it. Maybe he was more lenient to some films than he should’ve been, but eh, I don’t think I know any critic (including myself) that doesn’t do that at some point… maybe he just did it more often than others, I don’t know. But I get the impression from him that he liked films, and that’s definitely not a feeling I get from some reviewers. Ebert could do good invective when he wanted, of course (e.g.), but I don’t get the feeling he ever became jaded with what he was doing.
Of course, I’m sure a lot of the grief for Ebert that I’m seeing stems from his own personal circumstances, the many and varied battles with cancer over the last decade that I don’t really need to go into here; he was left in a condition most of us would find appalling, as I suppose he must’ve done himself. Then again, it was how he lived with that condition through his flourishing life online and so forth that also drew people to him. In the end, I suppose the affection a lot of people had for him stemmed not so much from him being a great critic (which is always an arguable thing) as it did from being a fairly decent human being. Nice guys always seem like a greater loss, probably because they are.