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Remembrances of Roger

Ebertfest Spot... for Rog from Michael Mirasol on Vimeo

A selection of tributes and memories from those who knew, and read, Roger Ebert. More will be added as we collect them:

"For a generation of Americans -- and especially Chicagoans -- Roger was the movies. When he didn't like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive -- capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical."

"Even amidst his own battles with cancer, Roger was as productive as he was resilient -- continuing to share his passion and perspective with the world. The movies won't be the same without Roger, and our thoughts and prayers are with Chaz and the rest of the Ebert family."

-- President Barack Obama, April 4, 2013

Roger's customary seat at the Lake Street Screening Room, before a press screening of Terrence Malick’s "To the Wonder," the morning of April 5, 2013:

(photo by Bill Stamets)

Werner Herzog,

"There will be a long, long echo [of his work] reverberating for a long, long time.... I've always tried to be a good soldier of cinema myself, so of course since he's gone, I will plow on, as I have plowed on all my life, but I will do what I have to do as if Roger was looking over my shoulder. And I am not gonna disappoint him."

Richard Corliss, TIME:

"'I was born inside the movie of my life': the opening words of [his memoir] 'Life Itself' announce both the crucial cinematic lure of magic images on a big screen and Roger's talent for analyzing his own adventures and limitations. Given his gift of gab, that movie must have been a talkie. He fits William F. Buckley Jr.'s description of Roger's fellow Midwesterner Rush Limbaugh: 'preternaturally fluent.' One imagines him popping out of the womb and saying, 'Hi, Mom! Well, that was an interesting nine-month movie I just sat through. The visuals were lacking; it was more like radio, really. But the soothing darkness well prepared me for a life of sitting in movie theaters. All in all, I give the experience two enthusiastic, tiny thumbs up!'"

Video tribute by Mike Moran:

Andrew O'Hehir,

"Virtually alone among his generation of journalists, Ebert saw the substantive potential of social media early on and translated his fame in print and on TV to the Internet, becoming a Twitter trailblazer and a mentor who showed the rest of us in this imploding profession not just how to survive but how to prosper in the digital age. [...]

"He's up there with Will Rogers, H.L. Mencken and A.J. Liebling, and not too far short of Mark Twain, as one of the great plainspoken commentators on American culture and American life. What was so wonderful about Roger as a critic was the fact that he was never a snob and never condescended to anyone, while also being an immensely knowledgeable student of film who avoided the faux-populist reverse snobbery of so many of the critics who followed him into television. He wrote in clear, declarative newspaper prose aimed first and foremost at his Chicagoland readership -- "I go into the movie, I watch it, and I ask myself what happened to me" -- but was just as likely to lavish praise on foreign films or tiny indies or cheesy exploitation flicks as on Hollywood star packages."

Leonard Maltin, Indiewire:

"If there was any downside to [Siskel and Ebert's] television success, it was that so many people only knew them from that medium and never sought out their printed reviews. I was one of those people. It was only with the invention of the Internet that I began reading Roger's reviews, on his comprehensive website, and marveling at his writing skill. He is the only critic I know who unashamedly drew on his life experiences to explain his feelings about a given movie. It wasn't a gimmick, and it never made him seem self-absorbed, just disarmingly candid."

The Onion:

"CHICAGO--Calling the overall human experience 'poignant,' 'thought-provoking,' and a 'complete tour de force,' film critic Roger Ebert praised existence Thursday as 'an audacious and thrilling triumph.' 'While not without its flaws, life, from birth to death, is a masterwork, and an uplifting journey that both touches the heart and challenges the mind,' said Ebert, adding that while the totality of all humankind is sometimes 'a mess in places,' it strives to be a magnum opus and, according to Ebert, largely succeeds at this goal."

Matt Zoller Seitz,

"I grew up in Kansas City and Dallas in the seventies and eighties. To put it mildly, these were not film towns. They had precious few art-house theaters. Roger Ebert's review show with Gene Siskel, which ran on PBS and then in syndication under various titles, was my gateway into cinematic worlds I might not have otherwise explored, and that road led to my becoming a film and TV critic. Siskel and Ebert had as much to do with stoking my interest in films and film criticism as anyone I knew personally. Maybe more.


Grace Wang, Far-Flung Correspondent:

"'Start writing. Short sentences. Describe it. Just describe it.'

"Roger said, when I asked him about writer's block. Then he quoted the first three paragraphs of his 'Persona' review and told me that it had completely baffled him in 1967 but this strategy worked brilliantly. Tonight, as I sit here numbly staring at the screen with the hardest writer's block I've ever known, I place my fingers on the keyboard to follow the advice of the greatest man I know, and just describe it."

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, "Ebert Presents At the Movies,"

"Dear Roger:

"I'm not going to pretend that we were close; nonetheless, you were my friend. You were generous and supportive, and I never properly expressed to you how much your generosity and support meant to me. You were the only person I've ever asked for advice.

"When I learned that you'd died, I had just filed a review for you website. I was about to start wrapping up one for this site--a pan of 'Simon Killer.' I no longer feel like working on that review. I don't feel like writing about bad movies at all. I want to write about good movies and good people."

New York Times obit:

"It would not be a stretch to say that Mr. Ebert was the best-known film reviewer of his generation, and one of the most trusted. The force and grace of his opinions propelled film criticism into the mainstream of American culture. Not only did he advise moviegoers about what to see, but also how to think about what they saw."

Richard Brody, The Front Row:

"I've long believed that the job of the daily reviewer is a very tough one. Ebert writes, in the introduction to his 2006 anthology of his work, 'Awake in the Dark,' of seeing 'three movies during a routine workday,' and, according to Douglas Martin's obituary in the Times, Ebert 'said he saw 500 films a year and reviewed half of them.' Some movies elicit passionate exultation; others, passionate revulsion. Those movies that repel you are the hardest to write about, and, for many critics, that's the majority of movies. That's where Ebert's unique temperament, his humanistic world view, comes into play."

Alan Zweibel, author and co-screenwriter of "North":

"… [Friends] called to express their sympathies: 'It’s like Ebert stuck two thumbs up your ass and then had a tug of war with himself.'"

Alex Ross, The New Yorker:

"I noticed how much Ebert could put across in a limited space. He didn't waste time clearing his throat. 'They meet for the first time when she is in her front yard practicing baton-twirling,' begins his review of 'Badlands.' Often, he managed to smuggle the basics of the plot into a larger thesis about the movie, so that you don't notice the exposition taking place: ' "Broadcast News" is as knowledgeable about the TV news-gathering process as any movie ever made, but it also has insights into the more personal matter of how people use high-pressure jobs as a way of avoiding time alone with themselves.' The reviews start off in all different ways, sometimes with personal confessions, sometimes with sweeping statements. One way or another, he pulls you in. When he feels strongly, he can bang his fist in an impressive way. His review of 'Apocalypse Now' ends thus: 'The whole huge grand mystery of the world, so terrible, so beautiful, seems to hang in the balance.'"

Wesley Morris, Grantland:

"Even with his illness he continued to write. And the writing (and how much of it there is to read!) is what will keep Ebert a titan, alongside Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris, who died last June. Ebert worked in a separate realm (and city) from Kael's and Sarris's rivalries and coteries and seemingly endless word counts. In print, Ebert practiced criticism with vivid clarity. A writer I know once told me he didn't read Ebert because he get could a plot summary anywhere. It's true that a typical Ebert review contains mostly plot synopsis, but it's mostly plot synopsis the way diamonds are mostly coal."

Bilge Ebiri, "15 Roger Ebert Passages That Epitomize His Writing":

"In honor of Roger Ebert's immense, diverse body of work, here are fifteen great quotes and passages from his writing -- from pans to effusive praise to touching blog posts and even recipes. These aren't necessarily his most definitive reviews or passages, and yet each one evokes exactly what he did so well in every bit of writing, no matter how banal, grand, or universal the subject."

Andy Ihnatko, Sun-Times tech columnist:

"But I still have him in the form of the finest and highest standard of what it means to be a journalist and critic. All my life, Roger Ebert has always been the bar I've tried to reach. I never will. But his example has made me stronger through failure."

Roger reads Mike Royko's review of "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls:

Ali Arikan, Far-Flung Correspondent,, PressPlay:

"It’s been five days since the world found out about Roger Ebert’s death. Writers have been competing in the eloquence of their tributes, and even though I am not one to judge the particular way a person mourns, I have found certain aspects of this deluge rather off-putting.  I simply think it an incongruent way to mourn the death and celebrate the life of a man who despised cant and abhorred schmaltz (though he enjoyed having fawning admirers).…  Roger knew the meaning of the phrase “too much of a good thing.” He was a measured man, who kept things simple. He loved the movies, he loved his wife, he loved his family, and he loved his friends. He was a kind and generous soul, who lived a full and happy life. He will be missed. Every day. /eom"

Laura Emerick, Roger's Chicago Sun-Times editor:

"Roger believed fervently in standing up, especially when it came to workers’ rights. Back in the ’80s, during the height of the politically reactionary Reagan era, he would proudly identify himself as a 'card-carrying member of SDS.' (Not sure, though, whether Roger hewed to the original Port Huron statement, or 'the compromised second draft,' as the Dude dismissed it in 'The Big Lebowski.')

"His union sympathies began at an early age. His father, Walter, worked as an electrician, and Roger remained a member of the Newspaper Guild throughout his career — though after he became an independent contractor, he probably could have opted out. He famously stood with the Guild in 2004, when he wrote to then publisher John Cruickshank that 'it would be with a heavy heart that I would go on strike against my beloved Sun-Times, but strike I will if a strike is called.'"

Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive:

"'Most Americans don't understand the First Amendment, don't understand the idea of freedom of speech, and don't understand that it's the responsibility of the citizen to speak out,' he said. [...]

He also defended his own right to speak out:

"I write op-ed columns for the Chicago Sun-Times, and people send me e-mails saying, 'You're a movie critic. You don't know anything about politics.' Well, you know what, I'm 60 years old, and I've been interested in politics since I was on my daddy's knee. . . . I know a lot about politics.'"

Bob Mankoff, The New Yorker -- Best of Ebert's Cartoon Contest Captions:


Seyongyong Cho, Far-Flung Correspondent (Seoul, South Korea):

"Roger has immensely influenced me since I got acquainted with him through his reviews, and he taught me a lot about how I should think and analyze movies. As a guy diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, movies came to me as the useful tool for communication, and I have tried to communicate with others through good movies and my reviews written about them. Roger showed me the good examples of how to do that..."

Roger addresses the question: “In facing your own mortality, what final message would you leave for future generations?” — CPT12, Colorado Public Television

Watch 11th Hour "Roger Ebert" on PBS. See more from CPT12 Presents.

David Edelstein, New York Magazine:

"But then came the cancer, the removal of his jaw, the loss of his ability to eat (which he loved) and hold forth (which he loved as much). But this cursed event was in some respects a gift. As a film blogger, he was peerless, and he was, if anything, better on politics and social issues than on movies. On Twitter, he found the kind of direct line to the public he'd never had before. He loved the community, the interchanges both respectful and feisty, the instant feedback. What an irony: Lacking the power of his speech, he was still in his element."

Darryl Roberts, director of "America the Beautiful:

"... Roger is known for fighting for people that don't have a voice. That's why he's so loved and will be missed by so many millions of people."

Jim Emerson,, Scanners:

"I'm tempted to say that if Roger had never written a word, he'd be known for bringing people together. But the writing was what made Roger Roger. He wasn't just generous with those close to him. He told everyone a lot about himself -- sometimes, I think, more than he knew -- in the words he published: his reviews, his op-ed pieces, his interviews, his blog, his memoir -- even his tweets."

Roger remembers how he fell in love with blogging:

"I started this blog in May, and it has enriched my life. I have been astonished by the high quality of the comments received. I have also been educated, amused, moved, corrected, encouraged. I personally read all the comments that are submitted, and after four months I have received not one obscene message, not one illiterate message, not one hostile message. Those few comments I have not published were not dumb or offensive, but simply things like well-wishes that I didn't think most readers would be interested in.

"Your comments have provided me with the best idea of my readers that I have ever had, and you are the readers I have dreamed of. I was writing to you before I was sure you were there. You are thoughtful, engaged, fair, and often the authors of eloquent prose. You take the time to craft comments of hundreds of words. Frequently you are experts, and generous enough to share your knowledge."

Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune:

"Did I mention he was a film critic?

Well, who you are is and isn't what you officially do for a living. Ebert wasn't working so hard to prove a point. He worked so hard because that's who he was. Writing was like breathing to him.

"No wonder this Champaign-Urbana transplant was the quintessential Chicagoan. We like to think of Chicago as the city that gets things done.

"Ebert got things done. He got a whole hell of a lot of things done."

R. Kurt Osenlund, Slant Magazine:

For me, Ebert always seemed to be there when I needed him. When I was still just reviewing films for sport, or watching them in the dark of my parents' basement, I'd rush to Ebert's website (or his books) to compare his thoughts to mine, and see what I could learn from his insights. In the late '90s and through the Aughts, when my love of cinema graduated well beyond fondness for popcorn fare celebrated at shows like the MTV Movie Awards, it was Ebert who turned me on to oodles of offbeat stuff — films that remain divisive even with his ever-respected stamp of approval.

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