Thursday, April 04, 2013

The balcony is now closed

On Tuesday, I read a piece in the Chicago Sun Times how renown film critic Roger Ebert was taking a "Leave of Presence" from his work due to his cancer returning. The meaning behind the phrase "leave of presence" was the idea that he would not review nearly as many movies but, at the same time, was not going away altogether. Ebert's piece also referenced how he was collaborating with Martin Scorsese, Steve James (he of Hoop Dreams) and Steve Zaillian on a bio-documentary about his life.

However, in less than 48 hours after that blog post, many were shocked to learn that Ebert succumbed to his struggle so quickly.

Ebert, 70, who reviewed movies for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years and on TV for 31 years, and who was without question the nation’s most prominent and influential film critic, died Thursday in Chicago.

“We were getting ready to go home today for hospice care, when he looked at us, smiled, and passed away,” said his wife, Chaz Ebert. “No struggle, no pain, just a quiet, dignified transition.”

He had been in poor health over the past decade, battling cancers of the thyroid and salivary gland.

He lost part of his lower jaw in 2006, and with it the ability to speak or eat, a calamity that would have driven other men from the public eye. But Ebert refused to hide, instead forging what became a new chapter in his career, an extraordinary chronicle of his devastating illness that won him a new generation of admirers. “No point in denying it,” he wrote, analyzing his medical struggles with characteristic courage, candor and wit, a view that was never tinged with bitterness or self-pity.

While I was more familiar with Ebert on TV, where he displayed occasional pomposity as a know-it-all film critic, the internet (specifically his Twitter page) showed more of an insufferable side when it concerned anything of a political nature. A Chicago liberal through and through, Ebert seemed almost giddy in his review of Fahrenheit 9/11 and Charlie Wilson's War, two films which didn't exactly cast Republicans in a favorable light. Despite that, I never got a sense Ebert used the almost universal respect he earned as a film critic to further any political agenda while conveying a movie review. As time went on, I actually gained a measure of respect for Ebert in that he was willing to disclose his ideological leanings if indeed a film dealt with political subject matter. He then left it up to the reader to ascertain whether his beliefs resulted in a biased review. Despite the fact he disagreed with the premise contained in the title of the 2004 film Michael Moore Hates America (written and directed by my friend Michael Wilson), Ebert focused on the content of the film itself and actually gave it a positive review.

In what has become such a politically-charged culture, it's a rare thing when a public figure outside of politics (who has very passionate beliefs in that area) can perform his/her work without using it as a platform to convey their beliefs. So many high profile figures today would do well to emulate the professionalism Ebert displayed for nearly a half century.


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