I’ve been reading Roger Ebert just about every Friday (except when he was ill) for 11 years now. I love his reviews not because I always agree with them, but because I love his reviews. There is a joy of film, and a joy of writing that shines through.
Here are a few of my favorite passages from his writings. These are not his “best” in any literary sense, but they come to mind when talking or thinking about movies. And for anyone who’s read his work, you know he’s at his best when reviewing the worst movies:
On “Not Another Teen Movie“:
I have here a heartfelt message from a reader who urges me not to be so hard on stupid films, because they are “plenty smart enough for the average moviegoer.” Yes, but one hopes being an average moviegoer is not the end of the road: that one starts as a below-average filmgoer, passes through average, and, guided by the labors of America’s hard-working film critics, arrives in triumph at above-average.
So, anyway, younger girls won’t like this movie, unless they know what happens under an automobile hood. Younger boys won’t like it because the only thing that’s possibly going to blow up real good is the sun. But science-fiction fans will like it, and also brainiacs, and those who sometimes look at the sky and think, man, there’s a lot going on up there, and we can’t even define precisely what a soliton is.
On “How to Read a Movie“:
This all began for me in about 1969, when I started teaching a film class in the University of Chicago’s Fine Arts program. I knew a Chicago film critic, teacher and booker named John West, who lived in a wondrous apartment filled with film prints, projectors, books, posters and stills. “You know how football coaches use a stop-action 16mm projector to study game films?” he asked me. “You can use that approach to study films. Just pause the film and think about what you see. You ought to try it with your film class.”
On “Tru Loved“, this is the reveal at the end of his review that he only watched eight minutes of it:
Full disclosure. I lifted the words “San Francisco to conservative suburbia with her lesbian mothers” straight from the plot summary on IMDb.com, because I stopped watching the movie at the 00:08.05 point. IMDb is also where I found out about Bruce Vilanch’s dual role. I never did see the lesbian mothers or my friend Bruce. For “Tru Loved,” the handwriting was on the wall. The returns were in. The case was closed. You know I’m right. Or tell me I’m wrong.
Q. How can you give a one-star rating to a movie you didn’t sit through?
A. The rating only applies to the first eight minutes. After that, you’re on your own.
On Universal Health Care:
I was informed that my entry was “typical liberalism.” This is correct. I am a liberal. If you are a conservative, this appears to be a difference between us: I think you should have guaranteed health insurance.
And there are a bunch of others in his own list of favorite lines. Some gems:
The director, whose name is “Pitof,” was probably issued with two names at birth and would be wise to use the other one on his next project. — Catwoman
I had a colonoscopy once, and they let me watch it on TV. It was more entertaining than The Brown Bunny. — Response to Vincent Gallo’s hex to give me colon cancer
I am informed that 5,000 cockroaches were used in the filming of “Joe’s Apartment.” That depresses me, but not as much as the news that none of them were harmed during the production.