Remembering Roger Ebert

I couldn’t really tell you what drew me towards the art of journalism. Maybe it was Bernie Miklasz’s column in the Post-Dispatch? Or perhaps it started with that first time I opened an issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Like I said, it’s hard to pinpoint one thing that really sparked my interest. It’s much easier, however, to identify who inspired me to pursue journalism as a career, although I’m sure he would prefer if I referred to it as a lifestyle, or better yet, a hobby. The man I’m alluding to is the late Roger Ebert.

Despite never meeting him in person, it feels like I was on a first name basis with Ebert. In a field where personal pronouns are vilified and a lack of personality is the norm, Ebert was a breath of fresh air. When reading one of his reviews, it was almost as if you were conversing with him. His reviews reminded me of discussions I have with my friends, which is something I respect and strive to emulate in my writing, but can never seem to do as well as Ebert did.

Ebert never came off as pretentious, which is another thing that separated him from other critics and culture writers. His goal wasn’t to show off his knowledge in film, nor was it to flaunt his vocabulary. His writing was straightforward and meant to please, and I’d say it did just that. Quite frankly, there was nothing more pleasing than Ebert reviewing a bad movie. There was nothing more pleasing than Ebert reviewing a good movie, either.

Speaking of pleasing, what about the duo of Siskel and Ebert? They were a better pairing than peanut butter and jelly. I’d even venture to say they were better than Jordan and Pippen. Seeing these two masters of film critiquing on the same screen was a treat, and it’s a damn shame my generation has to watch the chemistry of these two via 240p on YouTube. Nevertheless, there’s something blissful about seeing these two get into heated debates over the quality of a movie. It was also somewhat frightening. How am I supposed to move on with my life knowing Siskel and Ebert couldn’t agree on “The Silence of the Lambs?”

But Siskel and Ebert’s heated arguments highlighted the thing that made Ebert an inspiration to so many: he was a fighter. He wasn’t afraid to back what he believed in, and he wasn’t afraid to admit his mistakes. He fought his critics. He fought film ratings. He fought cancer for 11 years. To be a critic, you have to be a fighter, and Ebert only raised the bar higher.

Ebert is one of, if not the most impactful journalist to ever enter the business. But he was more than just an inspirational movie critic; he was an inspirational human being. He didn’t let cancer stop him from doing what he loved. He was outspoken – every critic needs to be – and knew exactly how to connect with thousands upon thousands of others. He loved life, and to be as straightforward as the man himself, more people should strive to be like Ebert.

Two days before his death, Ebert wrote one last blog for the Chicago Sun-Times, titled “A Leave of Presence.” Ebert, suffering from a hip fracture that was deemed cancerous, capped off the piece with an eerie, yet beautiful statement: “So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.” I hope to see you at the movies, too. I hope to finally meet the one who moved me to enter the field of journalism. I hope to shake your hand and personally thank you. Rest in peace, Roger.