My love for film, my true love for film, began with the reviews of Roger Ebert. I began watching films at an early age, my first memories being those of The Muppet Movie and Friday the 13th and Friday the 13th Part 2. Our family began subscribing to the Showtime channel early on in the 1980’s and then soon thereafter subscribed to the HBO channel. I remember devouring as much film as I could; I would watch at least one movie a day. In retrospect, this was hard to accomplish considering I was still in grade school and we only had one TV to share between my siblings and my parents (Lord how I envy the youth of today and their multiple viewing platforms). Early on I was obsessed with films enough to purchase movie/video review books. When my hands landed on the Roger Ebert”s 1988 Movie Home Companion book my eyes were opened to film as more than pure entertainment; I realized for the first time that film was an art form.
Without the reviews, interviews, and essays of Roger Ebert, I would never have discovered the works of Martin Scorsese, nor would have ever wanted to see foreign language films and documentaries. Of course, Ebert and I never agreed 100% of the time; however, I agreed with his reviews about 90% of the time. One thing I loved also about Ebert’s reviews was how much depth there was to them. They weren’t a quick paragraph that was basically a description of the plot and maybe a comment; no, these were essays, 2 to 3 pages in length. Another aspect that I loved about Ebert was his love of films. Even when he wasn’t too fond of a movie, you could still tell that this man loved movies. Of course, like millions of others, I watched his TV show with Gene Siskel. The 2 Thumbs Up or Down is something that even the young today, who never watched the show or have read Ebert’s reviews, have absorbed into popular culture.
Every year I looked forward to the new review books and every year I discovered new films and filmmakers. His glossaries and essays at the back of the book were very informative and entertaining. The Glossary itself is a quick and handy way for new filmmakers to avoid film clichés. Eventually, Ebert even began releasing books with the reviews of films he loathed with the fantastic title I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie.
It was a great tragedy when Ebert passed away. His loss has left a gap that no other critic, no matter how talented, has been able to replace. Thankfully, all of his reviews from his career, which began in 1967 until shortly before his death in 2013, are available online at the Roger Ebert website. I highly encourage anyone who loves film, or who wants to discover masterpieces from the last 50 years, to explore his website. Ebert’s reviews are a great place to start if you are serious about making films and also a good introduction to those who want to explore films that are not simply Hollywood blockbusters.