The Man Who Knew Infinity
An account of a remarkable person should strive to be as equally remarkable as its subject, not the timid and tidy boilerplate special of a…
* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.
Facets Multi-media director Milos Stehlik remembers Roger at a February 2014 event honoring Roger posthumously with the Illinois Prize.
The first time I met vegetarians I assumed they were risking their lives in some cockamamie cult. The first vegetarian I got to know well was Anna Thomas, author of the classic cookbook The Vegetarian Epicure. Her husband Greg Nava had been out collecting wild mushrooms for our dinner.
"Wild mushrooms! We'll all die! You eat yours first!"
CHICAGO -- Four years after cancer surgery left the famed film critic unable to speak or eat, Roger Ebert is publishing a cookbook dedicated to rice cookers, a kitchen appliance he lovingly calls "The Pot" and champions as an answer for those strapped for cash, time and counter space.
I met Anna Thomas at the 1975 Chicago Film Festival. She was not yet 30, and already the world's most famous vegetarian cookbook author because of The Vegetarian Epicure,published by Knopf when she was 24. It sold well over a million copies.
It's a good thing Ebertfest is no longer called the Overlooked Film Festival. One of my choices this year, "Frozen River," was in danger of being overlooked when I first invited it, but then it realized the dream of every indie film, found an audience and won two Oscar nominations. Yet even after the Oscar nods, it has grossed only about $2.5 million and has been unseen in theaters by most of the nation.
Those numbers underline the crisis in independent, foreign or documentary films--art films. More than ever, the monolithic U.S. distribution system freezes out films lacking big stars, big ad budgets, ready-made teenage audiences, or exploitable hooks. When an unconventional film like "Slumdog Millionaire" breaks out, it's the exception that proves the rule. While it was splendid, it was not as original or really as moving as the American indie "Chop Shop," made a year earlier. The difference is, the hero of "Chop Shop" wasn't trying to win a million rupees--just to survive.
Based on his show-stopping speech at Saturday night's Independent Spirit Awards, if Mickey Rourke wins an Oscar on Sunday night the Oscarcast is going to be a lollapalooza. As his comeback film "The Wrestler" won for best film, male actor and cinematography, Rourke brought the show to a halt and the audience to its feet with an acceptance speech that was classic Mickey. The Indie Spirits are telecast live and unbleeped, which added considerably to the speech's charm.
Nobody ever seemed to know what Dusty Cohl did for a living. He was a lawyer, and it was said he was "in real estate," but in over 30 years I never heard him say one word about business. His full-time occupation was being a friend, and he was one of the best I've ever made.
View image David Bordwell (who needs no introduction to readers of Scanners), Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics, and Werner Herzog discuss Herzog's "Stroszek."
"Stupidity is the devil. Look in the eye of a chicken and you'll know. It's the most horrifying, cannibalistic, and nightmarish creature in this world." -- Werner Herzog
I could listen to Werner Herzog talk all night. And I have. (See this transcript from Ebertfest 2005, for example.) Watching the marvelous "Stroszek" (I think of it as Herzog's Fassbinder movie), with Werner, as everyone calls him, seated in the audience two rows behind me, the famous dancing chicken at the end reminded of the quote above. ("Stroszek" has one of the great final lines in movies: "We have a 10-80 out here, a truck on fire, we have a man on the lift. We are unable to find the switch to turn the lift off and we can't stop the dancing chicken. Send an electrician. We're standing by..." Those of us who are not waiting for Godot are indeed waiting for the electrician, or someone like him...)
View image The vibe you get from this picture perfectly captures what Ebertfest feels like. Here, David Bordwell shows off his midnight-hour chocolate-banana shake at the Steak 'n Shake (yes, there's only one apostrophe in that). Somehow, when he began drinking it, he got the banana and the chocolate to stay separate on either side of the plastic straw, too. These are the things that make life worth living. (You see, the chocolate represents the movies and the banana represents the people and Roger is the glass and Chaz is the whipped cream and cherry on top and...)
Later I asked Herzog if he had changed his mind about chickens, dancing or otherwise. "I only like eating them," he said. In response, I naturally quoted a great exchange from "Chinatown":
Noah Cross (John Huston), peering at a fish on J.J. Gittes's plate: I hope you don't mind. I believe they should be served with the head.
J..J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson): As long as you don't serve the chicken that way.
View image Writer Anna Thomas ("El Norte") interviews Prof. Samba Gadjigo (director of "The Making of Moolade"), actress Fatoumata Coulibaly, and actress/activist Marcia McBroom-Small ("Beyond the Valley of the Dolls") for "Moolade."
I also asked Herzog if he'd seen Michael Winterbottom's fantastic bio-comedy about the Manchester music scene, "24 Hour Party People" (perhaps second only to "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" among my favorite films of the new millennium -- and the one I've enjoyed re-watching the most), in which the lead singer of Joy Division commits suicide with the last scene of "Stroszek" playing on television in the background. Herzog said he'd heard about it, but hadn't seen the movie. Well, he has something to look forward to.
View image Filmmaker Eric Byler ("charlotte sometimes") and actor Scott Wilson ("Come Early Morning") -- both Eberfest vets.
If you'd like to listen to part of the discussion between Herzog, David Bordwell and Michael Barker (a low-fi MP3 recording made on my Treo 680 -- have I mentioned how much I love my Treo 680, the life-changing "TiVo" of handheld gadgets?), click here.
It was remarkable to see how the Angry Young Herzog I remember from the '70s and '80s (in Seattle and especially Telluride) has evolved into such a congenial elder statesman. As his friend Paul Cox (who cast Herzog to play the father in "Man of Flowers," a film he described as being about "male loneliness") lamented technology (Cox is irrationally terrified of computers and cell phones), and proclaimed the imminent end of mankind's time on Earth, Herzog was more genial and philosophical. Yes, he said, it may be our turn to become extinct, like many species before us, but that's no reason to be "gloomy" in the time we have left: "Let's keep making films and treasuring friendships and drinking beers."
(When Cox, who spoke of women almost as if they were another species -- claiming they were "closer to the soil" in a way that made them sound almost bovine -- said that he couldn't think of any films about "female loneliness," Kristin Thompson came up with three masterpieces off the top of her head: Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors: Blue," Chantal Akerman's "Jeanne Dielman," and Carl Theodor Dreyer's "Gertrud.")
OK, now a few more pictures from Ebertfest 2007, after the jump...
Movie czar Jack Valenti, who announced his retirement Tuesday as head of the Motion Picture Association of America, will revisit the scene of the crime before leaving office. Valenti, a crusader against motion picture piracy, will speak at my sixth annual Overlooked Film Festival at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
SANTA MONICA, Calif.--But first for something completely different. The 2002 Independent Spirit Awards, or Oscars Unchained, were handed out here Saturday under a big top on the beach. Oscar nominees like Nicole Kidman, Ian McKellen and Sissy Spacek rubbed shoulders with indie legends like John Waters, Kasi Lemmons and Steve Buscemi, in a hip party atmosphere.
PARK CITY, Utah Of course I've seen all the wrong films so far at the Sundance Film Festival, according to the touts who whisper in my ear before screenings. It is always this way. You think you're seeing wonderful films, and everybody assures you that you've missed the masterpieces and are hopelessly out of the loop.
My first memory, when I heard that David Bradley was dead, was of him drop-kicking a footstool across the living room. Bradley, 77, who died Dec. 19 in Los Angeles, was one of the legendary eccentrics of the film world, irascible and beloved. He launched the career of Charlton Heston, amassed one of the great private film archives and toasted the survivors of silent films at his legendary New Year's Day parties.
Ebert's Best Film Lists1967 - present
Why don't we ever see Latino families in the movies? All the other American ethnic groups have given us movies about their march through the generations, but Latinos, until now, have been represented mostly by crime movies and comedies, neither presenting their culture in an especially positive light. A Chicano I know went to see "American Me," a film by Edward James Olmos that is brave and powerful but unremitting in its portrait of a man destroyed by prison, and came out saying, "If I wasn't Chicano, this movie wouldn't have made me want to know any."
The Chicago International Film Festival turns 21 in 1985, and as its birthday approaches, these are some memories from its long coming-of-age:
Park City, Utah - Up here in the mountains above the Great Salt Lake, everybody seemed to have a definition earlier this month of what an independent filmmaker was. It was just that nobody seemed to agree.