Thank You, Roger Ebert

I received a Film Degree from the University of Arizona in 1993. It’s not as snazzy as it sounds. My claim to fame was that my final, student film received a standing ovation and an instant re-show during our Finals – which consisted of showing our films in the on-campus student movie theater. My professor even made a speech about how I, in making the camera the main character of the film, had ‘made what he was trying to teach us worthwhile, as someone had finally got it!’

Of course, with praise like that I went out in the world thinking I was the next Spike Lee or Tony Scott – turns out I wasn’t cut out for the Hollywood bullshit the way I had hoped. I considered myself lucky that I was able to walk away from what would have eventually turned out to be numerous divorces, massive debt (and who are we kidding),  some sort of drug habit – all while probably filming dog food commercials or episodes of Saved By The Bell…no thanks.

During those years in school, we had some professors who respected what film reviewers contributed to the process, and some who considered them just two steps above Satan. I never was much of a review reader, for books or movies, unless it was written by someone who I respected as a writer or director. I felt having ‘been there‘ counted for something, otherwise, it was just someone spouting off their opinions, but at the end of the day, never really created anything of their own.

Roger Ebert was the exception. I know he had his hand in writing a bit for the movies, but he was neither a director nor an actor. What he was, was human. And he let that come through again and again. I often found him stuffy and anal when watching his show, I didn’t always love the banter, but his writing, that was a different beast.

I remember when I went to see Synecdoche, New York. I’m a huge Charlie Kaufman fan and was the first in line, but I left that theater thinking WTF? Then I read Ebert’s review. He said go see it again, then again, because even he admitted that though he was aware there was something amazing that was happening on that screen – it was coming from a direction that needed to be taken in slowly, with patience and with an open mind. I went again when i read this line:

“The subject of “Synecdoche, New York” is nothing less than human life and how it works. Using a neurotic theater director from upstate New York, it encompasses every life and how it copes and fails. Think about it a little and, my god, it’s about you. Whoever you are.” – Roger Ebert

So I went back. And I went back again. I watched that movie four times over a four-week period, and it is now one of my favorite movies of all time. And he was right. That movie, especially that ending, it was about me. It was about you. That movie, in some way, had the courage to hold a mirror up to humanity and say look how sick, horrible, amazing, beautiful and neurotic we are! It reminded me why I went to film school to begin with so many years ago – it was to create something that no one else ever could, and say something in a way, that in this world of reality shows and 24 hour news, could make people stop and think – I used to want something bigger than this! Even if it was only a handful of people who would might get it, sometimes, that is enough.

There are really no words I can share that are even remotely as beautiful as what Mr. Ebert said just a short time ago:

“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

I’m happy you did as well. Farewell, Mr. Ebert.

Vince is the author of Einstein’s Shutter, among other works.

Author: The Blue Route

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