Noah J Nelson on Thursday, Apr. 4th
Roger Ebert announced a “leave of presence” just two days ago, but still had plenty of work planned for the years ahead. He died today at the age of 70, after 46 years as the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.
Sometimes you know you’re going to lose someone, Ebert had successfully fought off cancer a few years ago at great cost, but until they are gone the weight of that loss just can’t be calculated. When I think of Ebert I think of the how he made it a point to judge a film on it’s own merits, not some checklist he had in his head. Something that is sorely missing from so much of what passes for criticsm online these day.
Alyssa Rosenberg captures Ebert’s abilities this far better than I’m able to in this fine piece at Think Progress:
He wasn’t a litmus-test reviewer, judging movies on single decisions or statements, but balanced different elements of a film in making up his judgements. This kind of thinking was clear in his reading of Gone With The Wind in Ebert’s Four-Star Reviews. Ebert was scathing about the movie’s uncritical use of Margaret Mitchell’s text, which describes the slave-holding South as “a l and of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields,” writing acidly “One does not have to ask if the slaves saw it the same way.” And he was not kind to the balance of concerns in the film. “The movie sidesteps the inconvenient fact that plantation gentility was purchased with the sweat of forced labor (there is more sympathy for Scarlett getting calluses on her pretty little hands than for all the great crimes of slavery).” But he read the film as a film, noting how some elements of it weighed against others, saying “to its major African American characters it does at least grant humanity and complexity. Hattie McDaniel, as Mammy, is the most sensible and clear-sighted person in the entire story.” In that same review he championed the need to depict even “values and assumptions fundamentally different from our own,” because “A politically correct GWTW would not be worth making, and might largely be a lie.” It’s a piece I wish every person who condemned Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty as an endorsement of torture had read before putting fingers to keyboard.
I hope she forgives me for quoting it at length. I find myself, as I often do at these times, at a loss for words.