A poem for Roger by Richard and Mary Corliss
HOLLYWOOD -- For four decades, Roger Ebert's reviews have turned countless actors and filmmakers into stars. On Thursday, Hollywood returned the favor -- dedicating the 2,288th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to the Chicago Sun-Times' legendary film critic.
The occasion also marked another "first'' for Ebert, the nation's first Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic. According to the event's major-domo, Johnny Grant (known as the honorary "mayor of Hollywood"), Ebert's star is the first ever given to a critic.
"There are plenty of others out here with stars who have been criticized, but Roger's our first official critic,'' quipped Grant, joking that in the future, movie fans will now have the chance "to walk all over Roger" if they disagree with one of his reviews.
The star is next to the entrance of the classic El Capitan Theatre and directly across Hollywood Boulevard from the Kodak Theatre complex, site of the annual Academy Awards presentation.
Ebert's honor not only recognizes his enormous contributions to the world of cinema but also toasts the 30th anniversary of his groundbreaking television show, which was launched as "Siskel & Ebert" and continues today as "Ebert & Roeper," co-hosted with his Sun-Times colleague Richard Roeper.
'A truly liberalizing experience'
Before the unveiling of his star to the hundreds of fans and members of the media gathered on Hollywood Boulevard, Ebert stepped to the podium and thanked his wife, Chaz, other family members and a legion of Chicago friends who had traveled to Los Angeles for the ceremony. He then quickly explained the core reason that he cherished films and the art of cinema.
"When we are born, we are placed into a specific box, in a certain space and time,'' Ebert said. In his opinion, film is the one art form that most easily enables people to escape their own reality, "imagining what it is to live somebody else's life -- to be a different gender, live in a different time, to live in a different economic class.
"It is a truly liberalizing experience and makes people broader-minded as film makes it possible for them not to be just stuck being [themselves] day after day.''
Before unveiling his star and addressing the throng gathered on a picture-perfect, sunshine-splashed Hollywood day, Ebert himself was given a series of verbal "thumbs up" from an eclectic group of friends and colleagues.
Director Werner Herzog praised Ebert not only for helping launch his own career "but for making American audiences aware of the universal world of film and being the first to tell them about the cinema in Brazil, Germany, Iran, China, just to name a few.''
Chaz Ebert passionately extolled her husband as "my own shining star,'' calling him a "great man who has enormous intelligence, wit, humor, but most important a love for humanity, justice and people of every color of the rainbow," who has made audiences sensitive to the important issues of our day.
"While Roger has done so much for independent films, for small films," she said, "he also can appreciate studio films and big-budget movies.
"One day he'll be quoting Shakespeare, the next day it's all about 'Booty Call.' He truly is a critic who is of the people, by the people and for the people."
'He's never changed'
Two native Chicagoans -- actors Virginia Madsen and Joe Mantegna -- also were on hand for the star dedication. Both cited Ebert's dedication to discovering new talent, new filmmakers and new filmmaking techniques that make him special.
"Roger has been so instrumental in helping the world of independent filmmakers find an audience," said Madsen. "Filmmakers from all over the world anxiously await to hear what Roger thinks of their films. When [her Oscar-nominated] 'Sideways' was first shown in Toronto [at the annual film festival], he was immediately a big supporter -- and that helped build the momentum for that film."
Mantegna loves the fact that "Roger has never changed. I've known him for more than 30 years -- back when I was doing theater in Chicago. Not only did he see all the movies, but he also came to a lot of Chicago theater. He loves watching performances and trying to understand what goes into them.
"More importantly, he's never changed. He's the same guy he's always been. I think he's the most humble, brilliant guy I know."