A realization has dawned upon me that all the words in English language, or for any language for that matter, fail to express even the minuscule of what one actually feels, for they are nothing but sounds designating concepts and these concepts are more or less frequently recurring and associated group of sensations, basically – just arrant commonness and our emotions happen to be beyond that. Another duly realization is that through incessant use and reuses, the phrase ‘life-changing’ has lost the ability to refer to anything but itself. So when I thought to open this piece of writing with the words ‘Roger Ebert changed my life’, I realized it was an obligation on my part to point out the trappings of language my feelings would be inscrutably confined to. Words cannot possibly let you, my dear friend, to fathom the love and admiration and gratefulness I have towards the man. Yet try the best I must, fully knowing that only failure awaits me at the end of this endeavor, for as Ernest Hemingway once said ‘There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down and bleed’ and all this bleeding for cinema in this blog would be an exercise in utter futility if not to have bled for the very man who inspired me to start this blog in the first place. So, having made a daft effort to confirm that all the inadequacies you will find in the article set to follow are legit, I conclude this prelude and begin :-
Roger Ebert changed my life. Not how I live it obviously, but rather how I look at it, which I believe is far more important. And having warded off from using hyperbole for some time now for the fear of getting indigestion later from eating my words (which has happened more often than I care to admit), I have made hell sure that this statement holds irrevocably true and I believe it does, for whenceforth I have discovered them, movies have been my life and Ebert has changed how I look at them. I still remember that me from three years ago, teary-eyed, prancing around with a never-before experienced euphoria after just having finished watching Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation at two in the morning. That was the first Ebert review I read, and believe me, Roger made sure with it that it wouldn’t be the last. The ending lines of that review were, and I can still quote it from memory ‘Do we need closure? This isn’t a closure kind of movie. We get all we need in simply knowing they share a moment private to them, and seeing that it contains something true before they part forever’. I remember clenching my fists after having read it, trying helplessly to stop the inevitable downpour of tears set to follow at the realization that someone had the exact same experience at that scene where Bob and Charlotte part which I had felt previously was only privy to me.
That’s what made Ebert a band apart. I have come to read multitudinous pieces of film criticisms in my life, with quite a few of them possessing apodictic prosaic beauty. Yet all of them seem to be centered on what is ‘right’ and what it is ‘wrong’ in a movie. Now as important that may be to some, in the bigger picture, I cannot think of something of lesser significance for what is ‘right’ for me may very well be ‘wrong’ for you. It isn’t what the movie is that forms its appeal, but rather what it invokes and no one knew that better than Ebert. Every review of his was like a portal of the sorts found in Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich (a movie he so dearly adored) for it lead us straight into his mind, engulfing us in every minute emotion which flooded into his brain while watching the movie.
There was a beautiful sentence with great truth to it that I came across and has stayed with me every since in Micheal Cunningham’s The Hours which said ‘One always has a better book in one’s mind than one can manage to get onto paper’. And when I ponder on that, I wonder what would have that piece Roger wrote for Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (in his Great Movies collection) sounded like in his mind ? Whenever I read it, and I do that quite often, it means something different for me every time, yet every time it always means something to me. It is as if he poured his whole heart in it with a child’s breathless disregard of the consequences.
It so often happens that the greatest events and thoughts are comprehended last, the generations which are their contemporaries do not experience such events – they live past them. It is in this respect that Ebert becomes truly epoch making in the literary circle, for in most cases genius turns out to be incommunicable and reluctant, blowing cold on the passerby. Yet, with Ebert, even the very naive was aware of his unparalleled mastery of his craft and lapped it up wholeheartedly.
Film criticism from the heart is like the Penrose stairs. We seem to be eternally damned with the failure to express what we truly feel at the end of a great movie, so we are clueless on where to start or end, ending up rummaging around our ideas, as if separate paragraphs can shed light on each other and form a comprehensive whole. Roger Ebert, an indisputable giant of American letters, came as close as one possibly could to describing the indescribable.
Great artists incite an interest towards appreciating their body of art, while the greatest incite an interest in mastering it. I know of no other who has inspired such a legion to love movies and write about them than Ebert. He was and is and will be, for me and countless others, the greatest of them all and the only rating I can possibly give Life Itself if two thumbs up. The tragedy is that the thumbs are mine, and not Siskel and Ebert’s. The reassurance comes from the fact that all those who love movies do consider it a tragedy.