People’s critic

Roger Ebert was both immensely popular and respected by his peers

Written by The Indian Express | Published: April 6, 2013 12:37 am

Just two days before he passed away at 70,arguably the most famous film critic of his time,Roger Ebert,wrote of a “leave of presence”,announcing that he would cut down on his workload,“reviewing only the movies [he wanted to review”,as his cancer had returned. That blogpost was characteristic of the candour with which he spoke of his decade-long struggle with cancer,to which he lost his jaw and the ability to speak and eat. He spoke through his reviews and his blog,where he chronicled his illness with grace and humour and discussed his views on politics,culture and society.

It is unnecessary to say Ebert loved the movies. He was,after all,a prolific film critic who produced 17 books and hundreds of reviews,and the first to win a Pulitzer Prize. He was the rare critic who transcended the popular and critical divide. His words were always passionate and grounded in scholarship,never inaccessible or condescending. He judged movies in accordance with their goals,rather than expecting every film to be Citizen Kane,his favourite. Ebert also transformed television film journalism in the US through a syndicated show with his sparring rival and co-host Gene Siskel,wielding a gladiatorial thumb that could make or break a film.

As eloquent as Ebert could be when he enjoyed a film,he was at his most entertaining when skewering derivative,banal or just plain awful films. Of a film called The Spirit,he said,“To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material.” His takedowns of “gimmicks” like 3-D are legendary. He remained,for many would-be cinephiles,the first gateway to movie magic,the man to consult every Friday.

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