Awakening us in the dark (For Roger Ebert)
[Editor's note: When news of film critic Roger Ebert's death broke on April 5 (he passed away April 4), Carljoe Javier's reaction on Facebook caught my attention because it was so heartfelt. Our regular readers would already be familiar with Carljoe as one of our regular film and comic book reviewers (his academic paper on comics will be published by Oxford University this year) and he has — more than once — received backlash from readers who disagree with his reviews. So I thought it fitting that Carljoe write this tribute to the most iconic film reviewer the world has ever known. Read on. - KLM]
MANILA, Philippines - Before I understood that film was a medium of its own, before I knew what I liked about movies, and a long, long time before I even thought of writing a single word about film, Roger Ebert was already educating me. By then he had been educating generations and was already one of the most influential and respected of American film critics.
It was sometime in the '80s that I started watching "Siskel and Ebert." It was, at its best, two men who were passionate about film, discussing and arguing about what made good films. Sure, there was the iconic thumbs-up/thumbs-down that summed up their opinions, but more importantly there was point and counter-point, picking apart movies, points of contention, and acknowledgment of differing opinions.
Watch Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert review 'Titanic' here:
This kind of discourse, by now, is all too easy to engage in. One need only look at the vitriol of online comment boards to see how readily people will assert their opinions. But what that show did was it showed two specialists who did not always agree with each other having a discussion that was rooted in a common love for film and respect for each other.
Seeing that on TV, well, that's something else, isn't it? It encouraged one to engage in discourse, to hear other opinions, to attempt to view films with a critical mind. Often, I would watch a film that got the two-thumbs-up and not know why it got that distinction. Sometimes I would love a film and it would get the thumbs down. I would struggle to understand why.
That taught me much about appreciation, about differences in taste, and the idea that it's important to watch all kinds of movies so that we might cultivate our taste and preferences. Because even if Ebert thought a film sucked, hey, he made the effort to sit through it, and he took the time to articulate what he thought.
Roger Ebert has written about film for the last 40 years. He has interviewed some of the most important figures in both Hollywood and international film. He has reviewed more movies than we can even cue up and plan to watch in our lifetimes. He was awarded the Pullitzer Prize for his film criticism, being the only film critic with such a distinction.
This writing has more often than not been insightful, intelligent, and filled with great appreciation for the art form, if sometimes not for the film itself. Sure, he has books collecting his abject thrashing of movies, and those are popular. But even when he detests a particular film, it is still clear that he loves films in general.
Here is Anderson Cooper's tribute to Ebert on CNN:
His most important lesson: Take a film on its own terms. It sounds like a simple enough idea, but it is very difficult to apply. Which is to say that you don't expect a popcorn rom-com to climb to the heights of "Citizen Kane." You take a film with the ambitions that it brings with it. This means an understanding of genre, production context, target market and other market forces, and other aspects beyond the actual film product. At the same time it demands an understanding of elements of film and how that specific film operates.
Ebert was able to navigate all of these aspects and bring them together into cohesive, clearly-written pieces. All this at a regular clip. Just check out his website and the frequency with which he has been reviewing even the latest of films. The kind of work put in betrays a passion and dedication that I always hope to aspire for.
Roger Ebert is best known as a film critic, and with loads of books of his reviews as well as a memoir, we remember him most in his writing. But the one film that he wrote is also something that isn't to be missed.
"Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" is a trip, a '70s romp that draws you in with the material and sexual temptations of a culture gone wild. In it are seen the excesses of celebrity and fame and privilege, but as the film develops it becomes progressively weird and dark, delving into directions that one would never expect, and mining some truly disturbing fears.
All of it wrapped up in an ear for dialogue and a love for language that betrays Ebert's background in literature. And one of the best, craziest lines of dialogue ever is in the movie: "'Ere this night wanes, you shall taste the black sperm of my vengeance." That lines gives you an idea of the film, erudite, raunchy, far-out, and willing to push boundaries of what can be done onscreen. It's not a perfect film by any means, but it is compelling and filled with ideas. The only shame is that there was no other Ebert-penned script to be produced.
Watch the trailer of 'Beyond the Valley of the Dolls' here:
It's going to be a very different world for movie fans. For as long as I have been able to read, Roger Ebert has been writing film reviews. He has been telling us what movies to watch, what movies suck, and at his best, he taught us how to watch movies. Some of that material is luckily still online — if you want a quick introduction to film, look no further than discussions on his blog where he discusses the elements of film and how to appreciate them — and he leaves us with many outstanding books.
I will miss checking his reviews to see if we felt the same way about a film. I will miss arguing with him in my mind about this or that scene, or why a specific aspect of a film worked or didn't. I might have disagreed with his opinions and choices almost as often as I agreed with him, but what was important was that there was someone so intelligent and passionate to guide the way in thinking about films.
We thank Roger Ebert for being an insightful, provocative, and dedicated disciple of film. His influence on my writing and thinking is immeasurable, and I am but a small and insignificant drop in the ocean of people that you have inspired.
Film will never be the same thanks to his work, and film criticism from here on out just won't be the same. - Rappler.com