I suppose I am not alone in saying that Roger Ebert taught me how to watch movies. I was a huge fan of “Siskel and Ebert” from the first time I saw it back in the seventies. As a kid from a small town without a movie theater and limited to whatever came to the small towns near us, or if we were really adventurous, to the early multiplexes in Toledo, Siskel and Ebert gave me a critical lens through which to think about the films I did see. I don’t know when I fell in love with the movies; it was probably in Boston in the early eighties, with the wonderful series at the Janus cinema, and the great double features at the old Harvard Square theater. Ebert remained my guide after the arrival of the vcr and video rentals. His paperback guide to the movies helped me negotiate the vast catalog of foreign films and Hollywood films from before the seventies that I had never seen.
For a few years, I was an amateur movie critic as well. That was well after the emergence of the internet. Ebert’s reviews were a crucial first-read when dealing with movies that I’d never seen but had to write about.
I always found his insights into the spiritual and religious aspects of film enlightening. Although not a conventional believer in any sense of the term, he had a keen sense of the deeper meaning of movies and the deeper questions that human beings ask, and he could write eloquently about both.
In 2011, he wrote about his own death here in the essay, “I do not fear death”
A few weeks ago, he wrote about Cathoiicism on the occasion of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation:
I consider myself Catholic, lock, stock and barrel, with this technical loophole: I cannot believe in God. I refuse to call myself an atheist, however, because that indicates too great a certainty about the unknowable. My beliefs were formed long ago from good-hearted Dominican sisters, and many better-qualified RCs might disagree.
His review of Terence Malick’s Tree of Life is beautiful, insightful and self-revelatory.