'A leave of presence'
He was scaling back on his movie reviews. He planned to do what he had always dreamed: review the movies HE wanted to see. He was relaunching his website. Ebertfest 2013, his annual film festival, was scheduled to begin April 17.
But the credits rolled before the film was finished. Roger Ebert died today, of unspecified causes, most likely complications from a renewed bout with cancer. He was 70.
He titled his last blog post "A Leave of Presence." How fitting. Because Roger Ebert will remain very much with us. He lives on, in his writing, in his commentaries, in countless video clips, in the memories of his friends, fans and loved ones.
I am not going to do Mr. Ebert justice with this post. I lack the talent. But here's my best shot.
Roger Ebert was the first critic who made me THINK about films. I realized that, at their best, they were more than entertainment, more than a backdrop for a date night. Film is an art form. Roger was one of its poets. I paid attention to the technical aspects, to the mise-en-scene, to how a director worked his or her magic.
His commentary on the DVD releases of "Citizen Kane" is a thing of beauty. Like so many of us, he lost it at the movies, long before Pauline Kael coined the phrase. And he was more approachable than Kael, more talented, frankly, less in love with his own sense of self.
Ebert's frequent TV appearances with the late Gene Siskel on Letterman or Carson were hilarious.
Forget the famous "two thumbs up." Look deeper. He was the first film critic to receive the Pulitzer Prize.
And he exposed me to so much, not just to directors whose films I might have otherwise missed (Fellini, Bergman), but to literature, too. I was so inspired after one of his blog posts last year, I drove to McKay Used Books and bought several novels by Henry James. Another piece caused me to put "A Dance to the Music of Time" into my Amazon.com wishlist.
He could rip a flick to shreds and he could wax poetic about the superiority of film over digital projection and he could write better than anyone in his field. No, scratch that. He could write better than most scribes, period.
And he was an inspiration as a human being, too, bravely fighting a cruel disease. Cancer took his jaw and his voice. He kept working until it took his life.
This weekend, I plan to watch "Citizen Kane," with Ebert's commentary, in tribute to an old friend I never met.
Godspeed, Roger Ebert. I hope you and Gene are somewhere together, laughing, talking, maybe watching a flick or two.
Your life and career rate two thumbs WAY up.