We encounter very few people in our lives that have the ability to trigger true inspiration in us. Whether they’re a politician, a musician, an artist, a writer, or an athlete, they have the ability to invoke in us a sense of purpose and determination.
For me, one of these people was movie critic Roger Ebert. I can’t remember the first time I heard his name, but I do remember At the Movies on Sunday mornings on PBS. I was too young to really watch, but even then I was captivated by anything to do with movies.
It was not until 2009, in my junior year of high school that I really started to watch movies. I was in my first filmmaking class and suddenly was able to watch with a completely different eye. It was at this time that I grew tired of the film critic published in the local paper. He was of the kind that trashed a movie for the sake of trashing it. With the Internet at my fingertips I began my search for a new source of opinion. It was then that I remembered At the Movies. I came across Roger’s website one day after school and then spent the evening reading reviews. I didn’t stop at current movies; I searched my mind for my favorite movies and sought out his reviews. I was astonished to find, with a few exceptions, that he and I were aligned in our opinions of many movies and often for the same reasons. I knew I’d found a critic who I could rely on.
Shortly thereafter I began to avidly read his blog, occasionally commenting on posts that I felt I could add an educated opinion to. I bought two of his books and took their recommendations to heart. I found myself able to watch more kinds of movies and able to more articulately voice my thoughts on them. The beauty of Roger’s reviews was not whether or not he liked a movie, but the ways he justified his opinions. I found that even when I didn’t agree with him, I could respect the reasons we disagreed. It’s not uncommon that upon visiting his review of a movie I previously did not favor, I would then be able to watch it in a different, more objective light that opened my eyes to elements I may have been blind to before.
As a student of screenwriting and a reader of film criticism, Roger was a man who I would have loved to meet. For the last four years I’ve longed to attend Ebert Fest, yet have never been able. If only to have had a few moments, to shake his hand, chat, and tell him to keep an eye out for my work in the coming years. One of my goals, perhaps my ultimate goal, was to have received a four star, two thumbs up review from him on something I’ve written. While this goal is no longer achievable, I can still work towards it, taking everything Roger has taught me, using it to shape my writing and the stories I want to tell.
I must take a moment to admit it is abnormal of me to feel so deeply a sense of loss over someone I’ve never met. It is a feeling I experienced first only two weeks ago, while, in London, I visited the former home of another hero of mine, Freddie Mercury. As I stood at the wall of his Kensington home and took in the messages of love and appreciation left by followers all unified by the fact that a great and talented man was taken too soon, I found myself overcome. It was sudden and unexpected. I had never reacted like this to someone outside of my family. It was at that moment that I realized that when a person, even a person you never have or never will meet, has a such deep and lasting impact on your life and spirit, they become more than a celebrity, more than musician, more than a film critic. They become a part of who you are as a person. Both Roger and Freddie have had this effect on me.
When I opened my computer today, on a break during my TV writing class, I saw the news that Roger had died. I was shocked and immediately saddened. Just two hours before in an email to my girlfriend, I had expressed my hopes that he would recover from this latest bout with cancer. Just yesterday I read his blog post about it and was left hopeful by his always positive demeanor and upbeat outlook. Perhaps this is why I feel so strongly. But I take solace knowing that his legacy will continue. He had plans for the future and I know they will still come to fruition, though the work of his loving wife Chaz, colleague, Richard, and his “Far Flung Correspondents.” They will continue his work, keeping true to his love of film.
As for me? I will carry on. I will keep writing and keep watching, ever mindful of what I’ve learned from Roger’s reviews, blog posts, and books. And of course, I will continue to check in on his website, every Thursday as I have done for four years, ready to know what’s good, and what’s not, at the movies.
“I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.” Roger Ebert in Life Itself