Friday, April 5, 2013

RIP, Movie Master

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.

RIP.

8 comments:

  1. I've been a fan of John Wayne movies and always liked the John Ford ones at Monument Valley having been where they were filmed. BUT the last time I tried to watch She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, I was horrified at the plot contrivances and lousy dialogue. It was gorgeously filmed and that's about all I could say for it. Then we tried Fort Apache with a stellar cast and Henry Fonda as the Custer or Fetterman character and couldn't make it through it. Of those three, the one I still love and can watch is Rio Grande. I won't say it's realistic to the West and it has some obvious overreaches but it still has Wayne and Maureen O'Hara in their prime and Wayne has a mustache-- any man with a mustache wins my approval and he wore one beautifully even if he rarely did so ;)

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    1. And don't forget Red River, with those cows that cross... and cross... and cross... and cross. I am certain we saw every single member of the herd. The scenery, the long shots, what he got from the actors (despite lousy scripts), Ford and Hawks were giants of their time. I watch them as if they are foreign films... perhaps that will help?

      I like mustaches, too, Rain... my guy has sported one forever.
      a/b

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    2. I can't blame this one on Ford but there is 'The Tall Men' which I love with Clark Gable (another mustache ;) but they repeat the same scene over and over in it too. I read they made it on a budget and it made a LOT more money than they expected. Too bad they didn't spend a little more ahead of time on moving to different scenery. There are a couple of locations they used a lot in Durango Mexico and they are very recognizable. I forgive it though for loving its soundtrack so much. Love Jane Russell, Robert Ryan and Cameron Mitchell in it. Primo cast.

      I love Red River, Montgomery Clift in his total prime is a pleasure to watch act the heck out of it (Jake Gyllenhaal should redo it today but he likely won't), but more the soundtrack than the movie. I bought the soundtrack which I enjoy writing by BUT it was done by a German chorus and you can hear it in the spots with words. It doesn't spoil it for me.

      Another pet gripe of mine is to have there be Indian attacks but in an area where the kind they have attacking never lived. I put up with it though when the movie is good enough.

      I should add on Roger Ebert that I felt bad also when he died and the battle he put out to live. I didn't ever though go much by anybody's reviews; so I rarely read his even though whenever I did, he seemed to be fair and good in his opinions.

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    3. I'm putting Tall Men on my Netflix queue right now.
      a/b

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  2. I've always liked Ebert as a reviewer and didn't even know that he had written a screenplay.

    We've lost a great, fun-living person.

    Rest in peace, Roger.

    Have a wonderful weekend AB.


    Megan xxx

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    1. YAY! You found something new in The Burrow! Glad to add to your store of knowledge, Megan :) Happy weekend to you, too.
      a/b

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  3. What a thrill you got to take a class and sit with him! I remember sitting up watching classic movies well into the night; before 24 x 7, one hundred channel TV. Marx Brothers, Fred and Ginger, Jimmy Stewart and classic horror. Don't get me started on Valley of the Dolls, I loved it for reason too many to mentions here!

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    1. The Golden Gopher and TBG and I spent many a night with black and white movies... into the wee hours b/c they didn't come on until after 11. We went to The Biograph theatre in Chicago, too, where they ran retrospectives every day. At the time, Ebert was a local celebrity, but had not gone national.
      a/b

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