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Ebert, like all greats, made it look easy

Paul Peterson

Paul Peterson

I remember the first time I saw “At The Movies” with Roger Ebert and Gene Siskell.  My first thought was that those two old guys on Sesame Street had a real show. OK, maybe that’s my memory now. Either way, who were these  old guys sitting in a balcony and talking about movies?
There was no 24 hour news cycle back then and no entertainment drivel filling every hour of every day. This was avant garde for the time and on top of that, it originated on PBS. Who knew that channel had more than old white men talking about their gout?
It was exciting. It was innovative and it very quickly became iconic.

Here were these two film critics for rival Chicago newspapers having at each other. It was clear they didn’t like each other although for the most part they tended to like the same films.
A lot of the time they raved about movies that I had never heard of and that would have made my eyes bleed if I had watched them, but they reviewed all of the mainstream as well and taught me to look at film in a different way.
Thumbs Up is so iconic that out of respect I never use it in my column even though it’s so tempting because it is such a part of the vernacular.

Siskell passed much too soon, of brain cancer, February 20, 1999, and once he was gone there was no one to even come close. Several versions of the show were tried with various co hosts but none of them could come even close. Mercifully, they have since closed the balcony.

Ebert, like all the greats, made it look easy.
He clearly wanted to be the best which I think is one of those connecting threads for all the great ones.
I found it interesting that he considered the greatest film of all time “Hoop Dreams” a  documentary about two young street kids trying to make it in basketball.
Second was Pulp Fiction and Goodfellas  was third. It’s an interesting look at his tastes. Mainstream and off the beaten path.

A lot of people don’t know that he wrote a couple of screenplays. His best known worst effort was Beyond The Valley of the Dolls.
Or, beneath The Valley of the Supervixens.
He had a thing for large breasted women running about.
His appetites were legendary. He was always the chubby one. He loved food by his own admission and of course talking was his forte so it was tragic that he lost the abilty to eat and talk as a result of his cancers-thyroid and salivary among others. His surgeries left him unable to eat, talk and he was disfigured, but his spirit was so fierce he continued to be a force on the movie scene.
His writing was exceptiuonal and he won a Pulitzer for criticism.
In his early days, he dated Oprah Winfrey long before she was famous and eventually met the true love of his life, Chaz.

Every week in preparing to write my column, I would read his words if he had reviewed the same film. It wasn’t daunting because he was the gold standard so it was more like the kid checking in with his dad or something akin to that.
He set the standard not just for film review but for supporting the arts, the artists, and for living a life of integrity. It’s tempting to end with some trite reference to thumbs up or the balcony really being closed, but I want to step past the cliches and thank Mr. Ebert for his years of service. He entertained me, taught me and made me a better writer.
Rest in peace Roger.
June 18-1942-April 4 2013

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElsePaul Peterson

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  1. madalena says:

    lovely done…as always

  2. linda M says:

    A lovely tribute…thanks
    Thanks too, for the info about his screenplays. This humanizes him in a touching way

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