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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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* 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.

#351 April 2, 2019

Matt writes: The full line-up for our 21st annual Roger Ebert's Film Festival (a.k.a. Ebertfest), running Wednesday, April 10th, through Saturday, April 13th, is now available on RogerEbert.com. We are dedicating the festival this year to the memory of one of our favorite actors and frequent guests, Scott Wilson, whose great 1984 film "A Year of the Quiet Sun" is among the selections. We also look forward to celebrating the longtime on-air partnership Roger had with Richard Roeper, who will be on hand for two special screenings, as well as the legacy of "Rachel Getting Married" director Jonathan Demme.

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#345 January 8, 2019

Matt writes: In our first Ebert Club newsletter of 2019, I am joining my publisher Chaz Ebert, editors Brian Tallerico and Matt Zoller Seitz, and fellow assistant editors Nick Allen and Nell Minow in wishing you a Happy New Year!

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#339 October 16, 2018

Matt writes: Scott Wilson (1942-2018) may be best known to modern viewers for his work on "The Walking Dead," yet his great screen career spanned several decades and included numerous memorable performances. His first two films, both released in 1967, proved to be classics: "In the Heat of the Night" and "In Cold Blood." He earned a Golden Globe nomination for acting opposite Stacy Keach in William Peter Blatty's 1980 horror offering, "The Ninth Configuration," and went on to be featured in unforgettable pictures such as "The Right Stuff," "Dead Man Walking" and "Junebug."

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Why we love zombies

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I made a wisecrack recently that, as far as I can tell, the zombies on AMC's "The Walking Dead" are metaphors for zombies. (Fortunately the show has the sense to hire guest stars like my friend Scott Wilson to add a human dimension to the endless splatter.) Another wise and talented friend, Kathleen Murphy, wrote something about the undying appeal -- and flesh-creeping significance -- of zombies a few years back that, unfortunately, can no longer be found on the web. But she was kind enough to send me the introduction ("It's alive!"), which I happily resurrect from the abyss for you here. Dig in:

Back to back, belly to belly I don't give a damn, I done dead already Oho back to back, belly to belly At the Zombie Jamboree

by Kathleen Murphy

In the hierarchy of horror movies, zombies usually come in dead last, behind glam monsters like vampires and demons, witches and werewolves. Ambulatory corpses are rarely pleasant to look at, and it's devilishly difficult to project personality through all that putrefaction, what with your fleshy bits constantly dropping off. Mostly zombies just shamble and chomp, activity that falls somewhat short of the meat-and-potatoes of high-class drama. 

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Blackie come home

Every time I see a dog in a movie, I think the same thing: I want that dog. I see Skip or Lucy or Shiloh and for a moment I can't even think about the movie's plot. I can only think about the dog. I want to hold it, pet it, take it for walks, and tell it what a good dog it is. I want to love it, and I want it to love me. I have an empty space inside myself that can only be filled by a dog.

Not a cat. I have had cats and I was fond of them, fonder than they ever were of me. But what I want is unconditional love, and therefore I want a dog. I want to make its life a joy. I want to scratch behind its ears, and on its belly when it rolls over. I want to gently extend its tail so the dog can tell it's a fine tail indeed. I want to give it a shampoo, and sneak it bites from the table, and let it exchange the news with other dogs we meet on the street. I want it to bark at the doorbell, be joyous to see my loved ones, shake hands, and look concerned if I seem depressed. If I throw a ball I want the dog to bring back the ball and ask me to throw it again.

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Siskel & Ebert at the Jugular

What does it feel like to resemble the Phantom of the Opera? You learn to live with it. I've never concerned myself overmuch about how I looked. I got a lot of practice at indifference during my years as the Michelin Man.

Yes, years before I acquired my present problems, I was not merely fat, but was universally known as "the fat one," to distinguish me from "the thin one," who was Gene Siskel, who was not all that thin, but try telling that to Gene:

"Spoken like the gifted Haystacks Calhoun tribute artist that you are."

"Haystacks was loved by his fans as a charming country boy," I observed.

"Six hundred and forty pounds of rompin' stompin' charm," Gene said. "Oh, Rog? Are those two-tone suedes, or did you step in some chicken shit?"

The real Phantom: Lon Chaney in 1925

"You can borrow them whenever you wear your white John Travolta disco suit from 'Saturday Night Fever,'" I said.

"Yeah, when are you gonna wear it on the show?" asked Buzz the floor director. "Enquiring minds want to know."

"He wanted to wear it today," I said, "but it's still at the tailor shop having the crotch taken in."

"Ba-ba-ba-boom !" said Buzz.

"Here's an item that will interest you, Roger," Gene told me one day, paging through the Sun-Times, his favorite paper, during a lull in the taping of our show. We taped in CBS Chicago's Studio One, home of the Kennedy-Nixon debate.

"It says here, the Michelin Man has been arrested in a fast food court in Hawaii for attempting to impersonate the Pillsbury Dough Boy."

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You wild, beautiful thing. You crazy handful of nothin'

That's the hard-boiled Dragline, speaking of Cool Hand Luke.

After she read my obituary of Paul Newman, my wife Chaz asked me, "Why didn't you write more about his acting?" She was right. Why didn't I? I've been asking myself that. Maybe I was trying to tell myself something. I think it was this: I never really thought of him as an actor. I regarded him more as an embodiment, an evocation, of something. And I think that something was himself. He seemed above all a deeply good man, who freed himself to live life fully and joyfully, and used his success as a way to follow his own path, and to help others.

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A Fan's Notes

I don't usually do this (and have no intention of making a habit of it), but I wanted to share a couple of appreciations of Roger Ebert, on the occasion of his first public appearance (at his Overlooked Film Festival, aka Ebertfest) since complications from surgery last July. I know Roger doesn't want me to turn this or RogerEbert.com into a big bouquet of flowers for him -- but let's just take a moment to celebrate his return to public life (and more reviewing!). Over the last ten months or so, many have written, in public and private, about what Roger and his writing have meant to them, and two recent notes struck me as especially eloquent.

The first is from Ted Pigeon, whose blog The Cinematic Art is a favorite of mine. (Check out his piece about critics and blockbusters, too.) Ted begins by observing: Like so many young film lovers, I first discovered my love of film criticism through Roger's engaging and intelligent movie reviews. His work showed me that film criticism is important, that it can be the source of great feeling and knowledge of cinema, and that criticism is essential to the advancement of cinema as an art form. It is a necesary companion to the experience of watching films for those who care deeply about films.The other piece was e-mailed to me by Peter Noble-Kuchera of Bloomington, Indiana, who recently attended Ebertfest. With Peter's permission, I'm publishing his entire article after the jump. This paragraph really resonated with me:To know Ebert by his TV show is not to know him at all. You have to read him. He was the first film critic to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and one of only three ever to have been so acknowledged. He is the only American critic to review virtually every film in major release. His essays, while without the crabby flashiness of Pauline Kael’s, are marked by the groundedness of a Midwesterner, exacting writing, deep insights, and more than that, deep compassion. More than any critic, Ebert seems to understand that the movies are made by people who, with all their flaws, were trying to make a good film. He is a tireless champion of small movies of worth, and no critic has done more to leverage his influence in order to bring those films to the attention of America.As I've said many times before, it wasn't until I started reading (hundreds, thousands) of Roger's reviews when I was the editor of the Microsoft Cinemania CD-ROM movie encyclopedia in the mid-1990s that I came to appreciate what terrific critic and writer the man really is. I feel more strongly than ever about that after three and a half years as the founding editor of RogerEbert.com. He's so very much more than the sum of this thumbs.

The rest of Peter's report (lightly edited) below...

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"We can't stop the dancing chicken!": Ebertfest photos #2

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...

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My Ebertfest 2007 photo blog #1

Director and longtime Ebert favorite Werner Herzog ("Stroszek") visits with Roger before the noon Sunday screening of "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls."

An experience like Ebertfest 2007 is beyond my capacity to convey in words -- and I'm not just talking about the movies. At one point I asked Roger if he was having as much fun as I was. He wrote on his pad: "The time of my life!" Sitting in his recliner in the back row of the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, IL, (his customary spot -- but this time with cushier accommodations and more legroom) he sure looked like he was having a blast. The rest of us had a fine time, too, as I hope you will see from these photos I took...

View image Roger Ebert listens to Chaz's introduction at the opening night reception.

View image Chaz Ebert introduces her husband to the opening night crowd from the stage of the Virginia Theatre.

View image Roger with "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" star Marcia McBroom-Small (Petronella, aka "Pet").

View image The crowd is in the house and all is quiet outside, just before "La Dolce Vita" hit the screen Friday night.

View image Werner und Ich. (photo by Eric Byler -- with my camera)

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