ON April 4, legendary film critic Roger Ebert died. He had been battling cancer for over a decade.
In his 46 year career he was the first Pulitzer Prize winner for film criticism, author of 17 books, a film festival founder, and even an occasional screenwriter.
Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Ebert was famous for his TV partnership with fellow critic Gene Siskel. Beginning in 1975, they hosted several shows together, including ‘At The Movies’. I became aware of Siskel and Ebert through the internet. They soon became my favourite critics; their insights, a compulsory reference point following a movie viewing.
Their reviews would be summarised with their iconic ‘thumbs up’, ‘thumbs down’ gesture, indicating a movie’s quality. These reviews would differ regularly, inevitably leading to a heated debate over a film’s merit. The two often had a combative quality on screen, though always retained a mutual respect and deep friendship. A brain tumour claimed Siskel’s life in 1999, ending their 24 year partnership.
Following several guest co-hosts, Ebert gained a new full time co-host in Richard Roeper, in 2000. A thyroid cancer diagnosis in 2002 eventually led to him leaving the air, in 2006. It also resulted in him losing his lower jaw and the ability to speak.
Maintaining a strong online presence, he continued writing to the end. Two days before his passing, he announced a December hip fracture resulted in his cancers return. He pledged to continue reviewing select films, yet sadly, he wouldn’t get the opportunity.
A prolific giant of film journalism, Roger Ebert’s importance cannot be overstated. Though a daunting task to sum up such a man, I can say simply that Roger Ebert was a lover of film, a passionate champion of young artists and he lived a life worthy of two thumbs up.
By Kelan Headley