Friday, January 4, 2008

Roger Ebert: Can We Have Dinner Sometime?

Sometime in my life, I'd like to have a leisurely dinner with Roger Ebert, and talk about movies and books and writing, and how they fit in with the really important things in life. I love how he sort of accidentally fell into his dream job, a career that combined something he loved with something he's very, very good at. What providence!

I love Ebert's writing. There are few things I like better in this world than really good writing. To attain this accolade, a writer has to first be a top-notch thinker. There's no such thing as a great writer who isn't first of all a clear, smart thinker. I don't buy it when a person says, "I know what I'm thinking, I just don't know how to say it." Bullshit. If you don't have the words, you don't know what you're thinking, and if you say you do, you're a pretender. It's best at that point to just stop talking. (Trust me, I know of what I speak.)

But I digress. My point is, Roger Ebert is a really talented writer, which necessarily means that he is a clear, logical, and at times, deep thinker. I admire that. I learn so much more from his reviews than whether or not he liked the movie. There are nuggets of philosophy, or literature, or history; if you read enough of Ebert's reviews, you end up getting a bit of a film school education. I always find myself wanting to learn more, read more, think more.

But while his reviews leave no doubt about his expertise and cleverness, Ebert's style is never intimidating or pedantic. He doesn't patronize me, nor does he try to impress me with his vocabulary and mastery of the subject matter.

I love Ebert's reviews because he obviously loves movies. I swear, I don't know why some reviewers don't just quit their jobs and become RTVF professors--they seem to hate everything they see, unless it's completely unfathomable to us regular viewers. But Ebert loves movies! He doesn't love, or even like, everything he sees; but he often finds value and redemption in movies that other reviewers scorn. More often than not, my movie-going experience matches up with the movie-loving guy rather than the nose-in-the-air critic.

Readers who love excellent prose, even if they are not necessarily film buffs, should seek out his columns in the entertainment section of the newspaper. Each review is different, and Ebert takes chances with his style and format instead of boringly sticking with the same rubric of grade, summary, critique. For example, his re-review of E.T. was writtten in the form of a letter to his grandkids, and he seizes the opportunity to reveal a new or renewed observation about the POV of the filmmakers--that "almost every important shot is seen either as E. T. would see it or as Elliot would see it. And things are understood as they would understand them."

Later in this same redux review, Grandpa Roger observes, "That's the sign of a great filmmaker. He only explains what he has to explain." See what I mean? Each review is a tiny class in the art of film-making.

Thanks for the education, Roger Ebert. And if you're ever free for dinner, it's a standing invitation. You're on the cover of The Green Room's People We'd Love to Have Dinner With Sometime issue.

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