Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Criticwire Survey: Ebert's Influence

Q: The release of "Life Itself" has many critics dwelling on Roger Ebert's influence. What effect did he or his writing have on you, and how do you see his influence on the culture of criticism as a whole?

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the effect his writing had on me. As a teenager discovering movies in the mid-1990s, Roger Ebert was the first critic whose writing I encountered – and was, for a number of years, pretty much the only critic I read. I watched the last few years of Siskel & Ebert – and again it had an impact (I was mad all week if it wasn’t on – or was the rare rerun) – and then I watched right up until Ebert left the show due to his illness. For an aspiring cinephile, Ebert’s books and TV show – and later his website – opened up a whole new world for movie watching. I watched my first documentary and foreign films because of Ebert – and discovered directors for cinema history that I fell in love with because of him as well. I read him on almost a daily basis for years – and still do refer to him when I’m watching something he reviewed during his lifetime.

It’s not entirely unfair to lay some blame on Ebert for some bad things in film culture – the thumbs up and thumbs down which too many people have replaced actual content in reviews – and has given rise to Rotten Tomatoes and the like, where everything is about percentages and not what is written. Fair enough. But Ebert always had far more content than most critics, and did far more to expose films to a wider audience than ever before. He was my first film critic, and I know to many he was the “only” film critic. His impact cannot be overstated. There will never be another Roger Ebert – the culture isn’t set up anymore to have someone like him dominate in that way. It’s been more than a year, and his loss still affects me. I cannot wait to see Life Itself when it comes out this weekend in Toronto.

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