Friday, April 05, 2013

Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

My day won't start the same as every previous Friday for many years.

For as long as it's been online, I've gone to every Friday to see what movies Roger Ebert is reviewing. I wouldn't read every review, just the ones that interested me, and always the reviews of movies I was considering taking Valerie to see. Garth Franklin is right to call Ebert "America's most famous film critic, probably the most famed film critic in the world over the past few decades."

It wasn't that I always agreed with Ebert; often, I didn't. His review of Fellowship of the Rings is an example of the worst kind of review (second only to the L. A. Times' review of Cujo, which unintentionally revealed that the reviewer had not seen the complete movie). Though he gave FOTR three of four stars, Ebert criticized it for not being the movie he'd have made from the book — which shouldn't be the point of a review.

Nonetheless that review, like all of Ebert's reviews, was written with style and vigor. That's why I read him. Ebert was frequently funny, always opinionated, often informative. When he liked a movie, I often could tell from his reasons that I would hate it; and often when he disliked a movie, the reverse dynamic would obtain. He tended to love sensitive, positive portrayals of immoral people and behavior; and tended to hate patriotic, moral movies — but only "tended." He wasn't utterly predictable. Nonetheless, Ebert would usually give me enough to make an informed decisions: try it out, or avoid like the plague.

I've known of him for decades, since watching him with Gene Siskel in their Sneak Previews / At the Movies shows. Their banter was lively and fun, and not always completely friendly. But they took the occasional moral stand against exploitive movies, such as no critic takes today.

I was sad to learn of Ebert's death to cancer yesterday. It's always sad to read of the death of someone who gave no evidence of being prepared to die. Just a few weeks ago Ebert wrote of his Roman Catholic faith... if you can call it that. His conclusion:
I consider myself Catholic, lock, stock and barrel, with this technical loophole: I cannot believe in God. I refuse to call myself a atheist however, because that indicates too great a certainty about the unknowable. 
There it is: Roman Catholic, except for all the specifics. That has never failed to boggle my mind. Why would anyone choose to identify himself with a religion whose main advertised selling-point is that it is infallible in its official teachings, alone in its claim to be the true church, completely unified thanks to the Magisterium, and thus invested with the right to totalitarian authority over the lives and thoughts of its members — only to disagree with just about everything that church teaches?

Yet that's what autonomy does, and Ebert was proudly and loudly autonomous in his thinking to his last public statements. Of two things concerning which he did not have an atom of actual grounded or empirical knowledge, Ebert made this dogmatic assertion: "I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state."

He was foolishly betting, not merely absent data, but in the face of it. We just celebrated the grand counter to Ebert's tragic miscalculation: the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the climax of a complex of events fraught with meaning and significance. That Ebert chose to ignore Christ's significance says nothing about Christ, and many sad things about Roger Ebert.

Nor did Ebert heed the Lord's half-brother's warning (James 5:13-16). On April 2, Ebert said "I am not going away," and announced confident plans for the future.

Then on April 4, Roger Ebert died.

As I always do, I will cherish the hope that Ebert thought better before God's generosity reached its end (Rom. 2:4), that God awoke Ebert to his need and God's provision in Jesus Christ.

But for me in the meanwhile, I'll likely think sadly of Roger Ebert every Friday, as I'll want to turn to his witty, insightful reviews. I don't have a sixth-favorite reviewer, much less a second-favorite. There just wasn't anybody like Roger Ebert. And now he's gone.

Would that his many admirers would reflect on the inevitability of death, find the fear of God, and make the preparations which Roger Ebert never shared that he had made.


The Blainemonster said...

Glad you referenced your paper/sermon/post Why I Am (Still) A Christian. That's a personable and well thought out piece. Gonna keep it handy.

jmb said...

Thanks. This has info I didn't know.

Ebert was important because he bridged the gap between the know-nothing TV reviewers and the film scholars. He may have been the first real film critic that many people listened to or read. I think he was generally too easy in his reviews, but he truly loved movies and he knew his stuff.

I'd recommend David Edelstein (forgot whom he works for now) and the two New Yorker critics, David Denby and Anthony Lane. The latter is a brilliant writer and often very funny.

The Nomad said...

I think this quote from the end of his memoir sums up what went tragically wrong in his worldview:

“Kindness covers all of my political beliefs…Life Itself…No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world."

Unknown said...

Dan, I thought this was a lovely tribute to Ebert by a conservative writer:

yankeegospelgirl said...

I was saddened to read of this too. Nobody quite like Ebert. I always rushed to see what he thought of the latest movies.

Anonymous said...

"and make the preparations which Roger Ebert never shared that he had made."

How about we stop beating around the bush and just admit that Roger Ebert is in hell right now? These evidence for Ebert's conversion can't be found because it doesn't exist. We act like deathbed conversions are the norm, when in fact there the rare exception.

DJP said...

Because when I claim to know what I cannot know, then claim to know with confidence things I say I can know, I undermine my hearers' confidence that I know the difference.