18 February 2010

Ebert

Hey, just a brief note on something that touched me, which is this Esquire interview with film critic Roger Ebert, kind of a profile on how he's spending his days lately with no lower jaw, an inability to speak or eat solid food. I guess that could be heartbreaking, and sure, the photos are a little uncomfortable, especially for those of us who grew up with the pleasant, salt-and-pepper-haired critic with the friendly, round face and wry good humor on Sneak Previews and At the Movies.

I grew up in a Chicago suburb, so I've known Ebert's criticism most of my life, although we always subscribed to the Chicago Tribune rather than the Sun-Times. Watching the shows was a treasured ritual with my mom up in our "TV room," a little den next to my bedroom, where we might enjoy some Stouffers Creamed Chicken or Creamed Chipped Beef inside puffed pastry shells while watching the show.

I don't want to delve further into those memories, because a) they would make me hungry for that creamy, fattening food, and I'm on a diet, and b) there's no reason to eulogize Roger Ebert, because he's very much alive. In fact, he seems as much or more alive than ever, his challenges our benefit, as he has focused even more on the movies he loves, while also infusing his writing with more personal insight and wisdom than ever. My mom always used to give me one of his fat review yearbooks as a Christmas gift, and I admit there were stretches over the years where I felt like Ebert was getting too soft or finding value in films I thought were mediocre at best. But one thing he taught me, which I've applied to my comics reviewing, is to try to judge the work on its merits rather than what we hope it to be. That is, an autobio artcomic isn't inherently better than Superhero Comic #467, but does Superhero Comic #467 accomplish its goals? Escapism isn't something to look down on. We all seek it, whether in our art or sex or food or other substances. It's tough to be alone with our thoughts and the crushing realities of the world. Entertainment is a noble endeavor, and there are no guilty pleasures.

These are things I've gleaned from Ebert's writing. But from the example Ebert's set with his own life, it's harder to say. I like to think I could face the day not just with stoicism but childlike enthusiasm, but who knows? I haven't experienced his hardships. What I do know is that it has made his writing even richer and I couldn't respect him more. His wife Chaz seems like a rare gem as well.

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