I wrote the basis of this in May, 2010. It has stood the test of time, with a few additions as I mourn the passing of an icon. Rest in peace, Ebert. You were a giant.
Decades ago, TBG and I took a film class taught by Roger Ebert. We sat on uncomfortable folding chairs in a charmless auditorium and watched in wonder as our study of the westerns of John Ford and Howard Hawks became an examination of the career of John Wayne.
Even Ebert was amazed. But since he was a fabulous teacher, as the conversations and questions focused more and more on the star's commanding, somehow huge but still understated presence, he was able to go with the flow. It was like being in Baskin Robbins at the end of the night as the server gives you an extra scoop to finish off the barrel. A bonus post, if you will.
Not only were we watching as bad guys galloped from right to left and good guys from left to right (watch an old oater and see for yourself), scrutinizing depth of field and admiring the long shot, but we also were seeing the creation of a screen icon. I'd always scoffed at The Duke; after Ebert's analysis, I was smitten.
Ebert was discovering it along with us. He was confident in his knowledge, and relaxed enough to be comfortable examining it from another perspective. He wasn't blown apart by the change in the scenery; he readjusted and reconsidered and we went from the director's to the actor's point of view.
It was revolutionary. It was fun. That sums up Ebert for me. He and Gene Siskel transformed the face of movie reviewing, taking it out of the rarefied air of the academy and bringing it to the people. Thumbs Up? Thumbs Down? That's how my friends and I talked about films, too.
Did you know that Ebert wrote the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls? He was a fan of Russ Meyer, the director of XXX-rated-bobbling-boobies movies. It was a part of his resume he retold with glee.
After class was over, the students would adjourn to a neighborhood tavern, where, over brews and bar nuts, the conversation ran from the classics to modern cinema to local politics. Ebert was in the middle of it all. He never stood on ceremony, he never adopted an attitude. He was happy to be surrounded by people who shared his passions.
He kept working even after his diagnosis and surgery left him impaired. He made do with what he had left. It's a lesson I'm learning by leaning on those who came before, who dealt with worse than my issues. He was a survivor, a hero, a master.