Roger & Me

I had a colonoscopy once, and they let me watch it on TV. It was more entertaining than The Brown Bunny.

~ Roger Ebert

If life and death are truly cyclical, and we really do get to come back and be someone else for a lifetime, then I hope I’ve enough karma set aside to be reborn as a facsimile of Roger Ebert.

If you’ll allow me to resort to a couple of now-antiquated terms of endearment, Da Man is Da Bomb.

He’s won a Pulitzer Prize. He’s got a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. And he watches movies for a living. Can it possibly get any better than that?!

As fellow movie critic and writer Christ Beaumont once put it . . .

Roger Ebert is a national treasure. He is the most recognizable and well known movie critic. He has been my favorite writer for some time now. I do not always agree with his opinions, which is my right, but he always backs them up. He is not someone who will say that such and such about movie X is bad and leave it at that – he will give the reasons for his thought process.

As a case in point, consider Ebert’s response to Steven Jay Bernheim and David Defalco, the brains behind the movie Chaos . . .

Your real purpose in making Chaos, I suspect, was not to educate, but to create a scandal that would draw an audience. There’s always money to be made by going further and being more shocking. Sometimes there is also art to be found in that direction, but not this time. That’s because your film creates a closed system in which any alternative outcome is excluded; it is like a movie of a man falling to his death, which can have no developments except that he continues to fall, and no ending except that he dies. Pre-destination may be useful in theology, but as a narrative strategy, it is self-defeating . . . What I miss in your film is any sense of hope. Sometimes it is all that keeps us going. The message of futility and despair in Chaos is unrelieved, and while I do not require a “happy ending,” I do appreciate some kind of catharsis. As the Greeks understood tragedy, it exists not to bury us in death and dismay, but to help us to deal with it, to accept it as a part of life, to learn about our own humanity from it. That is why the Greek tragedies were poems: The language ennobled the material.

That quote hangs on the wall above my desk, a poignant reminder to find the hope in even the darkest of subjects.

About many of my favorite movies, we are in total agreement:

Dances with Wolves

. . . has the kind of vision and ambition that is rare in movies today. It is not a formula movie, but a thoughtful, carefully observed story.

Minority Report

Some directors place their trust in technology. Spielberg, who is a master of technology, trusts only story and character, and then uses everything else as a workman uses his tools. He makes Minority Report with the new technology; other directors seem to be trying to make their movies from it.

Monster

What Charlize Theron achieves in Patty Jenkins’ Monster isn’t a performance but an embodiment. With courage, art and charity, she empathizes with Aileen Wuornos, a damaged woman who committed seven murders. She does not excuse the murders. She simply asks that we witness the woman’s final desperate attempt to be a better person than her fate intended.

Amores Perros

Inarritu’s characters are not the bland, amoral totems of so much modern Hollywood violence, but people with feelings and motives. They want love, money and revenge.

Magnolia

. . . is the kind of film I instinctively respond to. Leave logic at the door. Do not expect subdued taste and restraint, but instead a kind of operatic ecstasy.

And at his personal blog, he writes with equal passion about topics ranging from evolution . . .

The zealots of Creationism are indefatigable. Even now there are attempts to legislate that the pseudo science of Intelligent Design must be taught in school systems as a “debate” with Evolution. In common sense terms, that debate was over a century ago. Yet there are votes out there for politicians who support such legislation, and at the 2008 GOP presidential debate, no less that three candidates said they do not believe in evolution. I suppose I should be gratified that there weren’t more. They were Mike Huckabee, Tom Tancredo, and Sam Brownback. Some took their stand on religious grounds, but didn’t include Mitt Romney, who as a Mormon knows his church has no official dogma about whether or not Darwin’s theory is valid. A Mormon can be a Darwinian if he chooses. Romney chooses to.

. . . to his own battle with alcoholism:

I’ve known two heavy drinkers who claimed they never had hangovers. I didn’t believe them. Without hangovers, it is possible that I would still be drinking. Unemployed, unmarried, but still drinking–or, more likely, dead. Most alcoholics continue to drink as long as they can. For many, that means death. Unlike drugs in most cases, alcohol allows you to continue your addiction for what’s left of your life, barring an accident. The lucky ones find their bottom, and surrender.

God, I love Roger. And hate him as well, for this week he’s at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he had a chance to see Lee Daniels’ film Precious . . .

I have been dying to see this movie since hearing about it several months ago. The book it is based on is a difficult, painful and powerful read. And now Ebert has seen the movie and I haven’t. He writes . . .

Precious, one of the best films of the autumn, is Lee Daniels’ story of a physically and mentally abused poor black girl from the ghetto, who summons the inner strength to fight back for her future. It contains two great performances, by Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe, in the title role, and Mo’Nique as her pathetic mother. Sidibe is the life force personified. Mo’Nique has a closing monologue that reduced some of us to tears.

Damn him! I cry just watching the trailer. I imagine I’ll be a blubbering mess when I finally get to see this one for myself. For I love movies. And (have I said this already?) I love Roger Ebert.

This has been a long post, filled with many words that are not my own. And if you’ve made it this far, Dear Tweaker, you deserve some sort of payoff. Which is why I am now, publically, making a promise to myself: Next April 21-25, I do solemnly swear to be in Champaign, Illinois for Ebertfest 2010. I’ve lived too long without meeting enough people that I truly admire. I’ve thought of making plans to do this or that thing and then let them fall by the wayside of life’s rambling and unpredictable highway. But, unemployment be damned, I will find a way. Like Roger, I will take my place in an aisle seat and feed my passion for movies until I’m sick with glee. I’ll wait patiently in the queue to shake Roger’s hand. And if I can get a word out of what I imagine will be my extremely cottony mouth and can still my beating heart for more than a second or two, I’ll thank him for giving me so many things: a passion for movies; for words; for thinking critically about the details of life. And for being a survivor . . .

[photo credit]

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20 thoughts on “Roger & Me

  1. Magnolia…ah. One of my all time favorites. Just saw, “In the Loop”, one of the funniest and clever movies ever! I’ll have to look up what Roger had to say about this one.

  2. That trailer makes me a blubbering mess, and I’ve seen it a few times. Some of the best movies are the ones that leave you tear-drained and feeling raw inside, because they affect our perceptions so much.

    (I also like Ebert quite a bit)

  3. Roger Ebert is awesome. I usually agree with his reviews when I can see them (his column isn’t syndicated in our local paper). I didn’t realize he was at TIFF this week.

  4. I hadn’t seen any of the movies you mentioned, nor did I know that he was/is a writer OR in recovery. I am in recvoery myself, and his words about we drinkers are spot on. I need to go over and check his blog out.

  5. i must confess. i did not read every word of this post. still, because i am so dang wonderful i am commenting.. and also, i now want to leave my children home alone for a few days and go to the movies. i remember those days…

  6. i. love. movies.

    i could go to the movies every single day and never get tired of it. why, yes, i AM a dork.

    and i had never heard of the movie precious until now. looks like a must see!

    and ebert is da bomb.

  7. I’ve long been a Ebert fan, though I have never read any of his writing about alcoholism. This resonates with me: “Unlike drugs in most cases, alcohol allows you to continue your addiction for what’s left of your life, barring an accident. The lucky ones find their bottom, and surrender.”

    Glad I found you…you seem to like to post stuff that resonates with me. Thanks, eh?

  8. He IS a national treasure, and you SHOULD make the pilgrimage to meet him next year. I was a religious viewer of Siskel & Ebert, and later Ebert & Roeper… he was always such a staple in our house on the weekends.

  9. Wow, I’ve never given Roger Ebert much of a thought – just not on my radar. But I’ve been reading his blog hungrily since you wrote this and have a new respect. Thanks for that.

  10. Hi! Popped over from another blog that linked you today. I love this post. Love it. Have never given Mr. Ebert much thought but your tribute to this legend was articulate. So clear that it made me think of movies in a whole new way, as a life commentary instead of mindless entertainment (though it can have that place too, sometimes). Thank you.

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