Working for Ebert

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. Courtesy of AP.

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. Courtesy of AP.

It is the opportunity of a lifetime, and I am honored to accept it. Today, I’m officially announcing my new position as Assistant Editor at Ebert Publishing. I’ll be working with editor Chaz Ebert and project manager Dan Jackson to publish new books of reviews and other work written by the legendary film critic (and my lifelong hero) Roger Ebert. Our goal is to ensure that the voice of America’s most powerful pundit remains a vital part of the national discourse. There are few archives as bountiful, brilliant and gloriously entertaining as Roger’s, and its potential to continue generating essential books—both in print and digital form—is beyond measure.

As someone who has, for the better part of his life, read Roger’s work on a daily basis (no joke), this job is quite simply a dream come true. Here are merely a few of Roger’s reviews that I hold nearest and dearest to my heart…

Dick Tracy (1990)

I was 12 when I bought my first Ebert book. It was the 1998 edition of “Roger Ebert’s Video Companion,” and the first review that caught my eye was his four-star rave for Warren Beatty’s live action comic book adaptation, one of the first movies that sparked my interest in how filmmakers create wholly new worlds through costumes, makeup, production design and visual effects. Roger’s writing captures the exhilaration that I felt when I watched the film’s opening credit sequence, as Beatty introduces viewers to Tracy’s heightened universe.

“The camera begins on a window, and pulls back, and moves up until we see the skyline of the city, and then it seems to fly through the air, turning as it moves so that we sweep above an endless urban vista. Skyscrapers and bridges and tenements and elevated railways crowd each other all the way to the distant horizon, until we realize this is the grandest and most squalid city that ever was. It’s more than a place: It’s the distillation of the idea of City—of the vast, brooding, mysterious metropolis spreading in all directions forever, concealing millions of lives and secrets.”

Read full review here.

The Third Man (1949)

Roger has introduced more moviegoers to classic masterpieces, from silent landmarks to foreign gems, than probably anyone in history. His “Great Movies” essays were at once richly insightful and deeply personal, enabling readers to share in the sensations he felt when he first had his cinematic epiphanies. One of the first things I did when I got a Netflix account was add all of Roger’s “Great Movies” selections to my queue, and one of my favorites was Carol Reed’s marvelously entertaining thriller with Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles.

“Of all the movies I have seen, this one most completely embodies the romance of going to the movies. I saw it first on a rainy day in a tiny, smoke-filled cinema on the Left Bank in Paris. It told a story of existential loss and betrayal. It was weary and knowing, and its glorious style was an act of defiance against the corrupt world it pictured. Seeing it, I realized how many Hollywood movies were like the pulp Westerns that Holly Martins wrote: naive formulas supplying happy endings for passive consumption.”

Read full review here.

Goodfellas (1990)

I first saw Roger in person a decade ago when I attended a special screening of Martin Scorsese’s 1967 debut feature, “Who’s That Knocking at My Door,” at the Chicago International Film Festival. I’ll never forget seeing his iconic silhouette materialize at the top of the stairs, watching as audiences filed into the auditorium. It was an evening I’ll never forget. Roger was one of Scorsese’s most vital and vocal champions throughout his entire career, and his excitement over the director’s crime epic on “Siskel & Ebert” is utterly infectious.

Read Roger’s full “GoodFellas” review here.

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Nothing moved Roger more deeply than a character who decides to do the right thing, and nothing brought out the best in his writing than a filmmaker bound and determined to deliver the truth, even when audiences weren’t prepared to face it. While the Academy honored safe crowd-pleasers like “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Dead Poets Society,” Roger defiantly hailed Spike Lee’s fearlessly provocative game-changer as the year’s best film, rightly predicting that it would have far greater impact than the Oscar frontrunners.

“Thousands of people already have seen it at preview screenings, and everywhere I go, people are discussing it. Some of them are bothered by it; they think it will cause trouble. Others feel the message is confused. Some find it too militant, others find it the work of a middle-class director who is trying to play street-smart. All of those reactions, I think, simply are different ways of avoiding the central fact of this film, which is that it comes closer to reflecting the current state of race relations in America than any other movie of our time.”

Read full review here.

To the Wonder (2013)

Here’s the film that I saw the day after Roger died. I spent the morning on State Street helping a small group of movie lovers gather condolences from pedestrians. The screening room was quiet and solemn. A flower had been placed on Roger’s vacant chair. As the film played, all I could ponder was the unthinkable thought that these were the last images he ever wrote about. Though I found the film impenetrable, his review (the last he filed) urged me to give it another look, challenging and inspiring me to the very end.

“Why must a film explain everything? Why must every motivation be spelled out? Aren’t many films fundamentally the same film, with only the specifics changed? Aren’t many of them telling the same story? Seeking perfection, we see what our dreams and hopes might look like. We realize they come as a gift through no power of our own, and if we lose them, isn’t that almost worse than never having had them in the first place?”

Read full review here.

For a full list of Roger’s reviews, visit RogerEbert.com.

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