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The passing of Roger Ebert

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Thursday, April 4, 2013

Prolific film critic Roger Ebert has passed away at the age of 70. For a number of years Ebert had been battling cancer, and had undergone surgery that had taken away his ability to speak, but not his will to remain a vibrant and influential voice about cinema.

Along with his television balcony partner Gene Siskel, Roger Ebert was likely the most important force in educating the average person about the good and bad of filmmaking. If you want to read about Roger's background as a newspaper film critic, there's no better place today than the obituary in the Chicago Sun-Times, his publishing home these past 46 years. But for the purposes of this article on this site, my thoughts shared will be the personal ones that I have for Roger Ebert.

I have no doubt that one of the many tiny seeds that led to me creating Coming Attractions happened when I was a little kid and stumbled across Sneak Previews on PBS. Back in the late 1970s, Sneak Previews was the first of its kind, a television program that talked only about the latest movie releases out in theaters and offered the advice of two professional film critics about whether the movies were good or bad. For my impressionable, 8-year-old mind, watching a new episode of Sneak Previews was like eating mind candy. I learned about movies that I had no idea even existed, and I eagerly awaited to learn whether Ebert or Siskel liked the movies that I had recently seen or if they disliked them. In either permutation, their verdict always gave me a thrill. That guy on TV thought Close Encounters of the Third Kind was great too!

I enjoyed seeing more mainstream attention being given to Siskel and Ebert, and when they made the leap from public access programming to their weekly syndicated TV show produced by Disney, I was happy. By then the TV landscape was already beginning to wake up to the public's growing interest in movies, especially the business side of it, with shows like Entertainment Tonight now airing.

I launched Coming Attractions in the mid-1990s, back when the internet was a new and shiny thing. Amid the attention from the press that CA got, one of my personal highpoints came when Roger Ebert mentioned my site as one of the best resources for movies on the 'net. To me, that meant something, the same way that Richard Dreyfuss pointed to his mound of sculpted mashed potatoes and said "This matters to me." Even with the internet growing in popularity, telling someone that you took 20 hours a week to write about movies that hadn't even come out yet was a risky move. When Roger Ebert told his audience that Coming Attractions was worth his attention, I became thrilled.

Today I've read tributes from other online film writers sharing their personal stories about the greatness and warmth that Roger Ebert shared with them, and I have to say, I'm a touch jealous. I never took the opportunity to email Roger and thank him for liking my site or the way that I wrote about film. Today, I wish that I had, just to let him know how much Sneak Previews and him and Gene's weekly verbal sparring matches meant to this kid.

I don't want to end this story with a piece of emotional writing encapsulating the loss of Roger Ebert like, "The balcony is closed," or "Two thumbs down." Not only do I feel that is it manipulative writing that borders on being comedic, I would like to think that Roger would be the kind of guy to wave it off. His writing did exactly the opposite for millions of us: it opened theater balconies to the masses in a friendly, non-elitist way. The way that he championed online film criticism secures him a special place with every movie website owner and writer. I'm immensely glad that he wrote as much about the movies as he did, and that his love for films (both good and bad) came right from his heart with every review that he did.

Thanks for liking my site Roger, and for also being such an amazing class act of a human being too.

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