Today we lost a visionary of the Film Industry; Roger Ebert, fought valiantly, but lost his battle with cancer. I wanted to take the time to thank him, and his wife Chaz, for everything they have given all of those who have ever gone to a movie as a critic, and even as a fan of cinema. Working for iRATEfims.com has afforded me many GREAT opportunities, but being able to say that I have been able to see Roger “At the Movies” is something I will always treasure and never forget. I never dreamed I would one day live his catch phrase. I had watched him as a child, and grew up watching the show. I had felt that I had arrived, but I wasn’t reassured of that until later. Here are a few of my favorite memories of Roger and stories that will always make me smile . . . now with a heavy heart.
The first time I met Roger was back in 2010 at a screening of Harry Brown. This was my first ever experience in the Screening Room, and it is a story I will always tell people. I was excited to be invited to screen a movie in a place I didn’t know existed, and I had taken a seat. A few short minutes later I was approached and asked if I would mind moving? I didn’t mind moving, but I prompted the question before I did, “Why, might I ask am I moving?” The response was something I never thought I would hear, “Oh, that’s Roger’s seat! I’m sorry we forgot to tell you he was attending today, and that is where he always sits.” I was flabbergasted by this one statement. I was amazed that a person I grew up watching, and a man that I had idolized was going to be in the same room as me.
After the movie was over, and the credits had finished; I asked him what he thought of the movie. He gave me a look, kind of shrugged his shoulders and put his thumb to the side as a way of telling me that I was going to have to wait and read his review to TRULY know. I learned that day that Roger never showed his cards before the review was posted. He wasn’t secretive to be vindictive; he just didn’t want to possibly influence another critic’s view of the film. That was part of his genius, and over time I learned to appreciate that even more.
I remember that when I would go to screenings in “regular” theaters, I would sit, watch, and listen to people’s reactions to when they saw Roger. It was like the first time I was at a screening with Roger, and that always made me smile. After seeing him and Chaz at a couple screenings, I was told to not refer to him as Mr. Ebert, but simply call him Roger. That was HUGE to me, for it let me know that I was a colleague, and not just another face in the crowd. I still remember when I was interviewing Asghar Farhadi, Director of Last Year’s Oscar Winner for Best Foreign Language Film, A Separation, that Roger would be contacting him with some questions for an interview as well. Asghar was OVERJOYED by this news, mainly because Roger had named A Separation the Best Film of 2011. Asghar had asked me if I knew Roger, and with a smile on my face I told him that I was actually in the theater watching the film with Roger. His reaction was priceless to me, “YOU KNOW ROGER EBERT?!?” By association, I was no longer looked upon as just another interviewer, I was known as the guy who KNEW Roger Ebert.
One of my all-time favorite memories of Roger was sitting next to him at Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1. I remember after the movie Roger waving hello, and Chaz offering her thoughts of the movie herself. Chaz never talked about movies until after Roger had posted his review first, but she offered up to me that she hadn’t really enjoyed the other Twilight movies, but she really liked the vision that had been presented in Part 1. The funny thing about this was I could see Roger react in a way that said, “Well, at least you got more out of it than I did.” I later read Roger’s review, and while he did give it some kudos, it wasn’t really reflecting upon how Chaz viewed the movie.
That’s who Roger was, and he will always be remembered. The fact he always stayed true to who he was is something that I will take with me always. It was always a pleasure and an honor for me to attend screenings that Roger was at as well, and it is something I will pass on to my family as long as I can.
Roger was more than a man; he was an ICON of cinema. I remember as a kid, and as I grew older, just having the feeling that if he didn’t agree with my thoughts of a movie I would react as if he doesn’t know what he’s talking about; but, if I saw things the way he saw them he was DEAD ON and the Smartest Man ALIVE! I’m sure all of us have had a love/hate relationship with Roger Ebert, but the fact is that he is one of the BEST KNOWN Film Critics EVER! He gave way to a generation of critics, and with the help of his Best Friend, Gene Siskel, became the Dynamic Duo of the Silver Screen.
The way the two of them interacted gave us a whole new way to view movies as something more than entertainment. There were times where you thought the two may come to blows over movies, but their friendship remained true throughout the years. Roger wasn’t in the best condition when I first met him, but nothing stopped him from writing and continuing to do what he LOVED!
Roger had a passion for movies that few of us will ever get to experience. Even if he absolutely HATED a movie, he still LOVED everything about the film industry, and his passion never waned. The fact remains that some directors, screenwriters, and studios would be upset if their movie didn’t succeed at the Box Office; if Roger liked it, they had something that they could be proud about. The Ebert name carried such merit over film that at times I wouldn’t be surprised if movies were made just to attempt to gain Roger’s approval.
Roger was a person who was so well known that he was loved and hated like few people ever will be. But, whether you loved him or hated him, you must admit that you knew who he was and will always RESPECT him. Thank You Roger for everything that you have ever done and I hope that one day I will be fortunate enough to see you and your best friend “At The Movies!”