This Friday morning, the bluebird sky seemed gray; every fresh cup of coffee seemed tepid; every bite of my cinnamon bagel seemed bland. The elements of a perfect morning to postpone my miserable job were all there, save one: Roger Ebert.
Whether in print or online, I exclusively read Ebert’s reviews on 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 (though his commentaries on Bay’s use of screen staging and film editing will have lasting impact where Bay’s work will not); he will not be around to learn if David Gordon Green regains his way.
There is no need to offer another obituary or commentary here. Ebert has been suitably celebrated over the past 24 hours, and I previously discussed his impact in another 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 was, 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 evoke 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.”
As for New Movie Opening Day, I still have Manhola Dargis and A.O. Scott. My crappy job can wait a little longer….