The other day I was Googling help about an MS Word dictionary issue, and noticed this in the margin of the page…
Immediate disappointment rolled over me like dark clouds. “Ah Snap! Another one bites the dust.” (Insert my sigh, here). People old enough to remember the PBS program Sneak Previews or At the Movies may experience similar sadness when hearing about Roger Ebert’s passing.
When I was a kid, I’m guessing twelve years old, some Saturday afternoon I stumbled across this television show called At The Movies. It was rare that interesting shows appeared on channel 13 (a cable PBS feed from Washington), but this one caught my attention. Going to the theater as a child was novel and happened seldom. Disney’s The Rescuers was the first movie I ever saw, and the whole experience was especially memorable. For some reason, the popcorn and candy at the theater tasted amazing compared to any at home. Despite my shoes sticking to the floors, the fold-down theater seating was cool, the sound was louder than any TV, and the screen was wider than my eyes could see.
The idea that a couple guys, dare I say friends, went to multiple movies every week for a job seemed heaven-like. One of the shows’ introductions included a clip of each guy sneaking up to the balcony which was of course closed. Ah, even more forbidden fruit… sneaking into places a person wasn’t aloud. So cool! And up until that point, the thought that a movie might be deemed “bad” hadn’t really crossed my naive mind.
I came to realize Siskel and Ebert were strongly opinionated fellows and seemed to enjoy arguing their points. Sharing heated opinions drew my attention like a spectacle since my parents seldom argued and in my elementary school, students weren’t yet encouraged to debate each other.
From that point onward I was a fan of Siskel & Ebert, but wasn’t faithful to watch every episode. As a teenager, I was shocked, nearly hurt for Roger Ebert, when Slappy Squarell on The Animaniacs had made fun of him and the duo during this episode:
Some of it was obviously good satire, but at about 8 minutes into the clip, Slappy serves Roger Popcorn at the theater’s candy counter and offers him “artificial butter” which is horrifically liposuctioned from Ebert’s belly while he stands there. That scene left me momentarily stunned and remains vividly etched in my memory two decades afterwards.
I was saddened when Gene Siskel’s died due to complications from brain cancer. Richard Roeper was a decent enough fill-in, but the new duo’s magic was lopsided towards Roger. I pretty much gave up on the show when Roger was forced to leave due to his own battle with thyroid cancer.
In 2011 I rediscovered Roger Ebert online at http://www.ebertpresents.com/ and although his reviews were limited and read by other actors, it was encouraging to see him doing his thing. Roger Ebert hosted an interesting and unusual interview with Quvenzhané Wallis who starred in the film Beasts Of The Southern Wild. During the interviewed Roger, mostly off camera, uses his computer to interview the talanted young girl. At the end of the sequence we Quvenzhané shaking hands with him.
Unlike me, Roger Ebert was a critic of intelligent design, an atheist, and a secular humanist. Shortly after the film Prometheus, I discovered an exhaustive blog where Roger Ebert and folks debated intelligent design with Randy Masters and others for nearly 700 posts. It turns out the Roger and Randy had done this once before on some thread that lasted 3600 posts. Randy Masters, a conservative and being on the opposite side of nearly everything Roger Ebert believed, found a genuine friend in his virtual sparring partner:
I think Randy Masters saw the same personable fellow I first saw on the TV. Sure, Roger was hard headed in his opinions, but his flawed humanity made him likable, and his passions for film review was inspirational. Here’s a clip how Ebert started out on TV…