When I was young there were very few things that I was interested in that weren’t baseball. Really the only thing, other than baseball, was movies and people that talked about them. I loved movies, I reveled in a world where anything could happen and oftentimes did. I remember buying tickets to double features at the local mall to watch Woody Allen movies. I was about 10 when I did that. I didn’t see myself as an intellectual, I just loved movies.
One of the reasons movies made such a huge impact on my life was because of Siskel and Ebert. Roger Ebert died on Thursday and it had a profound impact on me. Far more than I would’ve thought a movie critic whom I’d never met should have. That was the thing about Roger Ebert, though, I felt like I did know him. When I was young Siskel and Ebert was on at 7 pm sharp and I’d be damned if I didn’t stop what I was doing to make sure I was there by my old man’s side to watch these two characters battle it out in the proverbial balcony.
I was about 8 when I decided that I would take my allowance every week and use it to go and see the movies they were going to talk about so I would know exactly what they meant. Oftentimes, that meant sneaking into an R rated picture, but I was a wily young boy. I saw movies that changed me profoundly and movies that I didn’t understand, but that’s what Ebert was there for, he was the one I liked most. I respected his opinion most, because he always seemed to make a nod towards history. He could correlate any movie with some other film from 40 years previous.
He loved Citizen Kane and spoke often about the brilliance of John Ford’s The Searchers. I longed to have those types of intellectual discussions with my friends so I would watch the movies and then try and discuss them. Always to no avail, we were young and being smart wasn’t acceptable yet. So I tried my dad, but he was too busy being an adult. I literally had no one that I could discuss them with so I began taping episodes of Siskel and Ebert on VHS unbeknownst to anyone and I would act as a third party when I watched it. It sounds silly now, but for a lonely boy that just wanted someone to talk movies with, talking to the TV, acting as a member of a very special triumvirate, was totally normal.
We went on and on about the brilliance of Back to the Future and how Michael J. Fox was destined to be a star. I panned UHF as fluff, but distinctly remember them loving it. This went on for a few years until I outgrew my need to talk to the TV and then I just became a casual watcher. Still getting out seeing as many movies as possible, but this time with the intention of seeing how far a girl would let me go. I never forgot my friends Roger and Gene though, we just sort of stopped hanging out as much, but I still checked in. Then we lost Gene to cancer and things started to get weird. Roger went through a number of partners until he ended up with Richard Roeper an amiable, affable reviewer who now becomes the standard bearer for what is the movie review business.
Roger never stopped writing and I never stopped reading. I respected his opinion still after all these years more than any other. It was Roger who I looked to before I decided to spend my money on a film. When they removed his jaw a few years back, because of thyroid cancer, we knew that he wasn’t long for the world, but that didn’t stop his indomitable spirit from writing over 300 reviews last year, the most he ever wrote. I haven’t even mentioned his political leanings, but that’s for another day. I loved this man’s writing, his words, and his thoughts. To my mind there will never be another writer of film as brilliant as Pulitzer Prize winning, Hollywood Star having, book writing Roger Ebert. He will be missed and I will continue to hearken back to his written words, for if we keep reading them perhaps a piece of him can live on. Perhaps then the balcony will never truly be closed.