I was incredibly saddened to hear of Roger Ebert's death today. It's a strange feeling to be upset about the death of someone I have never met. Like many others, I'm sure, I felt I had a connection with Ebert. I had never personally interacted with the man, but I felt his voice was mine, that he was able to say the things I wasn't able to articulate. Ironic, considering he was no longer able to physically speak. But that tragedy on his part was a boon for many online readers such as myself. Before cancer took his lower jaw, I followed him casually. I enjoyed his review show with Richard Roeper. But after losing his voice, Ebert took to the Internet with passion and intensity. He found new ways to connect to an even wider audience through his website and blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Not only was he able to publish film reviews on his site, he commented, reblogged, and posted links to a myriad of subjects that interested him. And this allowed a further look into the mind of a man who spoke his opinion, who was unapologetic about his views, and who had interesting things to say about film, modern media, and the world in general.
The true connection I formed came through his writing. Ebert found a balance between educated journalist and blue-collar commentator. His writing is accessible, funny, informed, and honest. He did not hesitate to praise or trash a film, and always had evidence and an informed opinion to back it up. One thing I learned was to write about how a movie makes you feel. His writing also taught me to see movies as they were. It is obviously pointless to compare an action-adventure film with an art-house picture. Instead, consider: was a film able to add or say something new, or was it just following a formula? Does it give you something? Does it, if temporarily, allow you to forget about the world outside the movie theatre? Does it hold a mirror up to your own life? To society? I have tried to apply some of these ideas to this very blog. I have also learned a lot from his books, from both his extremely earnest and enlightening memoir "Life Itself," as well as his "Great Movies" collection, which are packed with essays about movies he has loved over the years. Prolific writing like his, about how great and transformative movie medium can be, is an inspiration for my own writing. A few months before he died, I wrote him an email thanking him for his work. I will never know if he ever read that message, but I am glad I tried. I will truly miss this man's perspective.