Advertisement

Thanks to Roger Ebert, 1942-2013

Behind the tough critic's facade was a writer who faced life's questions with humility and courage.

April 05, 2013|By Michael Miller

The first time I encountered Roger Ebert, I detested him. The second time I encountered him, I liked him even less. In later years, I learned that Ebert's relationship with Gene Siskel progressed the same way: animosity, then grudging respect, then love and admiration. The last two feelings might not have been as strong without the first two; sometimes one intense reaction begets another.

My first encounter with Ebert was in 1992, when he and Siskel panned the Tom Cruise-Nicole Kidman movie "Far and Away" on TV. Perhaps you've forgotten the movie. I haven't seen it in decades. But to my 12-year-old mind, it was a rip-roaring adventure, complete with romance and a land rush and bare-knuckle fights, and since Ebert directed even more venom at it than Siskel, my 12-year-old mind branded him as The Enemy.

Soon after, I spotted a book of Ebert's reviews at the bookstore and found that he gave a mere two stars to "Edward Scissorhands," my choice then for the greatest movie of all time. I was staggered that he didn't like the bloody, melodramatic ending, which I considered the heart of the movie's genius, and I vowed never to listen to a word he said again.

Advertisement

Somehow or other — not through any conscious decision — I started listening to him, regardless. "Siskel & Ebert" was a popular Sunday night diversion in my parents' house, and as my mind skipped past 12 and onto 13, 14 and beyond, I started to weigh their opinions more closely. Yes, they were right that "Hoop Dreams" was brilliant. Yes, those last two independent movies we rented on their recommendation were pretty remarkable. During my freshman year of college, Siskel passed away, and Ebert was left alone to carry the torch.

At that time, I had a part-time job writing Calendar listings for the Los Angeles Times while an undergraduate at UC Irvine. I kindly asked (which is to say, borderline begged) my editor to let me write an essay on Siskel's death. She asked what my angle was, and I hadn't thought of one. After I stammered for a minute or two, she invited me to run the piece by her when it was ready. Eventually, I found a focus, and practically the minute my article landed on the newsrack, I clipped a copy and mailed it to Ebert at the Chicago Sun-Times.

Daily Pilot Articles Daily Pilot Articles
|
|
|