The first exposure I had to thinking about movies as more than just pure spectacle was watching Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert flay each other over who liked what movie and why on their weekly television show, Siskel & Ebert. The cultural impact of Siskel & Ebert is enormous–just think of how saturated “two thumbs up” is in our pop-culture lexicon–but Roger Ebert had a more personal resonance to me as a film writer working on his turf in Chicago.
The first time I saw him in a screening I was more starstruck than any other time in my life. The first time he spoke to me, with his electrical voice, I couldn’t muster an intelligible reply–nothing, NOTHING, could dampen the wit and experience and intelligence of his voice. That he kept communicating with me meant more than almost anything. No one has done more to foster a love of movies, writing, and discourse in young writers and critics than Roger Ebert. He took a personal interest in everything around him and it impacted us all, from those who read or watched his reviews to those who were lucky enough to know him.
There’s a big gaping hole in film criticism now, a silence where there should be a voice, a blank page where there should be words. And for some of us, there’s an empty seat in a theater where a friend, mentor and teacher once sat.