The elements of a perfect Friday morning were otherwise in place: a bluebird dawn, a fresh cup of coffee, a toasty cinnamon bagel. All that was missing was Roger Ebert.
I always saved Ebert’s reviews for Friday, New Movie Opening Day. Although Ebert’s writing had been sporadic in recent years as he coped with cancer, his reviews, blogs, essays and Answer Man columns will never be there again; not new ones, anyway. He will not be here to relish a new Coen brothers film, nor endure another Michael Bay movie; he will not be around to learn if David Gordon Green regains his way and whether Ramin Bahrani continues his ascent.
There is no need to offer another obituary or commentary here. Ebert has been suitably celebrated over the past 24 hours, and I discussed his personal impact in a previous post.
But Ebert was more than a great film critic, he was a great writer about film. And one of his most valuable projects over the past decade or so was his Great Movies series. Available online (for now at least) and in book form (the first two volumes of which feature film images perfectly chosen by Mary Corliss, formerly of the Film Stills Archive and the wife of Time critic Richard Corliss), The Great Movies is, as Ebert wrote, “a tour of the landmarks of the first century of cinema.”
Taken as a whole, The Great Movies is a globe-trotting journey through the works every cinephile should make an effort to experience. Because he was writing about films he loved—and in many cases had watched several times (sometimes frame by frame)—Ebert’s Great Movies essays have an added layer of warmth, of thoughtfulness, of exuberance for those few films that transcend their form.
Whether you’re revisiting Apocalypse Now or discovering Werckmeister Harmonies, Ebert’s Great Movies pieces invite thought and provoke conversation, they kindle Ebert’s knowledgeable affection. Cinema has lost a great champion, but he left film lovers with the tools to carry on his fight, to spread his message.
“Of all the arts, movies are the most powerful aid to empathy,” he wrote in the introduction to The Great Movies Vol. I, “and good ones make us into better people.”