Thursday, April 4, 2013

...and now, for something actually kind of serious. (Yep. It's Ebert.)

It's a lot sooner than I was expecting to get back to you guys here at the Third Row, but life does have its way of surprising us like that.

This isn't going to be a review piece.  I have Italian Spiderman lined up in the queue for you guys to dread when the time comes, but for now, we're here to talk about a much better subject and a much better person.

As you likely already know by now (unless you're in a self-instated media which case, why the Hell are you reading this? ... Wait!  Don't leave!) today saw the death of beloved film critic Roger Ebert.  The man was 70 years old, and this came one day after his announcing his intention to step down from professional review due to cancer.

Despite this heads-up, his death still felt sudden, and I find myself even now trying to sum up just what to say. This was a man who inspired a love of film in millions of people (no, I'm not sure that's an exaggeration.)  Many have also sounded off on the man's passing already.

As a result, I've spent the last hour or so trying to sort out just what I can say for the man and his legacy that hasn't already been here goes.

I wish I could tell you all how this man was a direct influence on my decision to go into review, but that would be disingenuous, as the thanks for that goes to many people (he is on the list though.) At the same time, however, he did manage to impart an important lesson on me that properly helped shape how I decided to look at reviewing to this day.

One of the things that I always found interesting with reading Siskel and Ebert's reviews is, even when I didn't agree with them, I could see their case.  This being at a time where, for a while, I was regularly at odds with the local reviewer (and while I will concede some of my issues there were biased, there were a few things where it did honestly feel like the guy just wasn't paying full attention.)  Regardless of how Siskel and Ebert, and later Ebert on his own felt about a movie, I could count on knowing that, yes, they watched it and absorbed it, and they knew what they were talking about in their discussion.

Here is where I will again stress the fact that Ebert and I didn't always see eye to eye.  For proof of that, compare our views of Zarchi's I Spit on Your Grave.  At the same time, damned if I wouldn't still respect the man his view for the fact he didn't simply write it off without giving it its proverbial day in court.

I guess what I'm getting at here is, to me, Ebert was essentially the model of proper reviewer conduct, embodying many of the key virtues that I feel all reviewers should take to heart, and sadly don't always:
-Never write off a work simply because of your prior impressions of the medium.  Give it a chance (for an example of this, look up his review of Grave of the Fireflies.)
-Not everyone will agree with you.  That's perfectly acceptable.  If everyone had the same opinions, this would be a boring enterprise
-To this end, don't be afraid to be in the minority vote on something if you like it.  Stick with your guns. But always...
-Make sure your case is solid.  If your stance is worth defending, then be ready to defend it.  Make sure it holds water and be ready to stand behind it.

I realize this sounds odd, but looking back, this really is the biggest impression Ebert made on me.  The man was a good writer, passionate about films, and when he completely unloaded on a bad movie, it was arguably more entertaining than the movie in question would be.  But for me, his strongest point will always be those points listed above: he was the man that helped prove to the world at large that film review could be a legitimate field (despite the number of people who will try to argue otherwise) and helped provide, for lack of a better term, a gold standard to hold review up to.

Alongside that, I also have to hand it to the man - his was a life spent sharing his love of film with others, and, in doing so, helping people discover their own love of film.  In a world filled with critics, few have had quite the impact he had.

God speed, good sir...
...hey, I can't be making these things jokes all the time.

I'll be having a drink to your memory tonight, good sir.  Thanks for the films, the memories, and the inspiration.

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