"He doesn’t of course; but in deference to the several readers who didn’t like my review of 'The Last of Sheila' because I gave away too much of the plot, I won’t reveal what happens to Christ in the end."
(While I do think critics do give away too much of the stories -- a tough balancing act, I admit, when you're trying to explain what you think about a film -- it's hard to not love the snarky sarcasm of that line, something you don't tend to see in movie reviews.)
When Ebert and Gene Siskel teamed up for their now-famous At the Movies, it began life (if I recall correctly) on the local PBS station, WTTW, then then exploded across the country. I was always an "Ebert man." Most of that was because he was my film reviewer, and Siskel wrote for the hated Tribune. But also Ebert knew what he was talking about, and Siskel always seemed to just be winging it. It's been well-written how the two men didn't like each other at first, and then grew to have great affection for one another. All I can say is that in those early shows, the condescending disdain (usually from Ebert) was polite, but dripping. Siskel's potshot's at Ebert were more defensive in retaliation. Even when they later grew to have a great friendship, Ebert still had a sort of, "Gene, I really actually know more than you about this stuff" attitude. It was that love-hate rapport from two people who actually knew each other very well, working as rivals in the same town that made their give-and-take so special, something most shows that tried to emulate never grasped.
To honor his passing, a number of film critics who were helped along the way by Ebert were asked to give their thoughts about him. You can read the whole thing here on the Robert Ebert website, but I just wanted to post below what was written by my friend, the oft-mentioned here Nell Minow.
Nell, if you're new to these parts, is a leading world expert on corporate governance, often testifying before Congress on the subject, but also in the other part of her "let me tell you my opinion of what I think" life, she's a top notch film critic, having written several books on film and reviewing on her Movie Mom website. She filled in for Ebert on occasion at the Sun-Times, and when he had his new TV series a few years ago, he asked Nell to be part of it. So, she knows well of which she speaks.
Here's what she wrote --
I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to read Roger Ebert's very first movie review in the place that would be his home for nearly half a century, The Chicago Sun-Times. I was a movie-mad teenager living in the Chicago suburbs and my mother, trying to persuade me to read the newspaper, told me that the new movie critic was closer to my age than hers. That got me interested. Roger was just 25 when he reviewed the French film "Galia" but it was all there: the passion for cinematic storytelling, the deep knowledge of genre and history, the confidence and precision of his judgment, and above all, the pure glory of his writing.
"Ever since the memorable 'Breathless' and 'Jules and Jim,' and the less memorable 'La Verite,'" he wrote, "we have been treated to a parade of young French girls running gaily toward the camera in slow motion, their hair waving in the wind in just such a way that we know immediately they are liberated, carefree, jolly and doomed." As was so often the case, Roger was vastly smarter and more entertaining than the movies he was writing about. He was such a towering presence that people sometimes overlook just how good a writer he was, the muscularity of his word choices, the cadence of his sentences. He had wit, suggesting reserve. But he loved movies with utterly unreserved passion. Roger was, always, always, always, eager to open up his heart and spirit to filmmakers and their stories every time the lights went down in the theater. There is no better description ever for one of the classic iconic moments in film than Roger's review of the title number in "Singin' in the Rain," where he writes about the "gloriously saturated ecstasy" of Gene Kelly's puddle-splashing dance. He understood it because that same purity of pleasure shone through his writing.
To paraphrase Mae West, when movies were good, Roger was very, very good. But when they were bad, he was better. Roger loved movies so much he seemed to take it personally when they were terrible. His trilogy of collections of his harshest reviews are as much fun to read as the films were agony to watch.
I love to read Roger's reviews. But my favorite Roger is his shot-by-shot commentary on "Citizen Kane." The depth of understanding he brought to every aspect of filmmaking made me see much more in a film I thought I knew well and provided insights I carry with me to every movie I watch, along with the resolve, every time the lights go down, to try to engage fully, inspired by Roger's ultimate integrity and devotion.