American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Apart from being a film critic, my dear Roger was a philosopher. He loved films that were challenging and provoking or that caused him to view the world in fresh new ways. He also had particular philosophies about why certain films worked and others didn't, or about why certain principles or values, such as empathy, or kindness or compassion were important to display on the big screen. So we thought it would be interesting to animate some of his interviews and reviews. We were working on a series of these but put them on the back burner. Then Quoted Studios, with support from PBS Digital Studios, released a brand new episode of its ongoing Blank on Blank web series, featuring an animated version of a conversation Roger had with Lawrence Grobel in July 1990.
It is fascinating to hear Roger discuss the importance of ego in his profession, while animator Patrick Smith visualizes its inherent duality. "I just assume that I'm right," Roger says, "partially out of conviction and partially as a pose." I love the moment where Roger reenacts an iconic scene with John Cusack from one of his favorite films, Cameron Crowe's "Say Anything," which he values for its sophisticated look at human relationships.
"I’m looking for films that come out of a director’s Quixotic, personal, passionate imagination and not films that are manufactured to entertain large numbers of people efficiently, even though I am often among those entertained," Roger states. For your enjoyment, we are also including a full transcript of his conversation with Grobel. Roger's candid honesty is one of the many things I loved about him, and this video captures his tirelessly inquisitive spirit beautifully. And, for the record, Roger left the arms of our chairs in Michigan perfectly intact, though his story that opens the video is a typical example of his wit.
Blank on Blank is not one of our creations, but the animated "Scarface," is. We commissioned several animated subjects and here are two that were done with the assistance of the animator Andrew Bartlett, and creative director Rocio Almodovar. Roger and his long time tv partner, Gene Siskel, were so animated in their discussions about the movies, that they were naturals to be portrayed this way. In addition to "Scarface," we animated a short clip from one of Roger's interviews with Walter Matthau. It is priceless. So I hope that you enjoy all three: "Scarface," Blank on Blank and Walter Matthau.
And here is the transcript of Roger's conversation with Lawrence Grobel...
ROGER EBERT: I have a place in Michigan that has a big long dining room table and I was thinking of getting all of the chairs on one side to only have a right arm, and all of the chairs on the other side to only have a left arm. See so that all of the guests as they reclined would have to look at me. I decided not to go ahead with this. Although I felt it would to add a great deal to my legend for eccentricity.
RE: Jesus, when I was sixteen I felt like it was my business to find out what was going on before I was born. I mean, who wants to live in the present? It's such a limiting period compared to the past. When I was a teenager we went to movies to see what adults did. Now adults go to the movies to see what teenagers do. People over the age of twenty-one hardly ever make love in the movies any more it seems like. They just look around… They just sit around and tell the kids they shouldn't be doing it. It's amazing.
RE: What am I looking for? I’m looking for films that come out of a director's quixotic personal passionate imagination and not films that are manufactured to entertain large numbers of people efficiently. Even though I am often among those entertained. I love to be entertained. I love those films. But the ones that really move me are the ones where a director felt that something had to be said and he said it. Film schools used to have the values of the liberal arts schools. Now film schools are more allied to the business schools in terms of their values; success, money, achievement, and power rather than vision, imagination, truth and social change.
RE: I love the acknowledgement between, in "Say anything...," a very underrated movie, the fact that John Cusack loves the girl in that movie because she’s smart and not because she’s pretty. Almost always, my favorite love scenes in movies don’t involve passion, they involve nobility or sacrifice. In which somebody brings out the better side or the better nature of somebody else.
LAWRENCE GROBEL: Can criticism be constructive or destructive? Or there can only be good and bad criticism?
RE: Bad criticism you see could be just as constructive or destructive as good. I generally believe that a certain amount of tact is necessary. I don’t think I would mention [Barbra] Streisand's nose in print any more than I would mention it to her in person. I generally feel that what makes people interesting is the spirit that shines through. Although of course in the movies you tend to have attractive looking people, one attractive person is compellingly likable and another one leaves you completely cold. that is more a question of spirit than of flesh.
LG: Who has the biggest egos that you’ve ever dealt with in the movies, either directors or actors?
RE: Well you see is it a healthy ego or a sick ego that we’re talking about? When you say who has biggest ego there’s an implicit criticism. In other words you’re actually asking, "Who's the biggest asshole." [crosstalk] I would say the biggest ego of anyone I spoke to in the movies belonged to Ingmar Bergman but I would want that to be heard as praise. He has very highly developed sense of self and of who he is and what he thinks and what he cares about. Woody Allen has an extremely well developed and healthy ego. This does not mean he’s conceited. It doesn't mean he's insufferable. it just means that he takes himself seriously and he should I have innate confidence that I am right. I just assume I’m right. Partially out of conviction and partially as a pose.
RE: Episodic television is based upon giving you more or less the same thing every week so that is why you would tune in again. Life is too short to watch the same thing more than once. Unless it really is worth seeing more than once.
LG: Well not everybody knows what to do with their lives. So that’s their entertainment.
RE: We’ll you know it’s too bad. There are a lot of other things to do. You can play poker. You can cook, you can paint, you can draw. You can read. You can have animals. You can have a girlfriend. You can …
LG: You are describing your life.
RE: You can go to the theater. You can travel. Gather together friends. Cook food and eat together and then talk afterward. It sure beats television.
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