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When I am writing my problems become invisible and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be.
February 16, 2010 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Roger Ebert, his writing, and his battle with cancer are hardly foreign topics here, but this in-depth interview/profile from Esquire about Ebert's illness, loss of speech, and late career burst of creativity is worth a read.
posted by anazgnos (63 comments total) 96 users marked this as a favorite

 
I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear, he writes in a journal entry titled "Go Gently into That Good Night." I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting. My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.

Quoted for truth and beauty. What an incredibly strong person.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:21 AM on February 16, 2010 [19 favorites]


I was sure this was already posted here, as I read it earlier today... don't know where I saw it now!

But yes, absolutely beautiful. One of the best articles I've read from Esquire.
posted by muddgirl at 10:22 AM on February 16, 2010


What an amazing person. And he's doing the best writing of his life these days.

The bit about the removal of the Siskel video is just plain devastating.
posted by jbickers at 10:27 AM on February 16, 2010 [6 favorites]


All these years later, the top half of Ebert's face still registers sadness when Siskel's name comes up. His eyes well up behind his glasses, and for the first time, they overwhelm his smile. He begins to type into his computer, slowly, deliberately. He presses the button and the speakers light up. "I've never said this before," the voice says, "but we were born to be Siskel and Ebert." He thinks for a moment before he begins typing again. There's a long pause before he hits the button. "I just miss the guy so much," the voice says. Ebert presses the button again. "I just miss the guy so much."

Aw.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:28 AM on February 16, 2010 [16 favorites]


You beat me to it, anazgos - I was going to make this my first FPP!

I found the article through Jezebel. Reading about the solace Ebert gains from his writing led me to search for his Twitter, which also led back to a Jezebel post that Ebert himself thought Tweet-worthy entitled "Roger Ebert Doesn't Give A Shit, And I Love Him For It".

Googling also uncovered some conservative bloggers taking offense at Ebert's lampooning of teabaggers. One statement in particular made me blink in surprise - "Ebert’s seen a lot of films but obviously hasn’t learned very much from them."

Upon reflection, I'm glad you made the FPP. The article deserves to stand on its own. Foolery like this should be reserved for the comments.
posted by Devika at 10:31 AM on February 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


Thanks for posting this.
posted by Kimberly at 10:32 AM on February 16, 2010


Also, quoted for making me tear up:

This time, the anger lasts long enough for Ebert to write it down. He opens a new page in his text-to-speech program, a blank white sheet. He types in capital letters, stabbing at the keys with his delicate, trembling hands: MY TRIBUTE, appears behind the cursor in the top left corner. ON THE FIRST SHOW AFTER HIS DEATH. But Ebert doesn't press the button that fires up the speakers. He presses a different button, a button that makes the words bigger. He presses the button again and again and again, the words growing bigger and bigger and bigger until they become too big to fit the screen, now they're just letters, but he keeps hitting the button, bigger and bigger still, now just shapes and angles, just geometry filling the white screen with black like the three squares. Roger Ebert is shaking, his entire body is shaking, and he's still hitting the button, bang, bang, bang, and he's shouting now. He's standing outside on the street corner and he's arching his back and he's shouting at the top of his lungs.
posted by Devika at 10:34 AM on February 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


One of the few annoying things about being an atheist is that there's not really an adequate substitute for some phrases / sentiments that have a certain weight to them.

So I still say: God bless Roger Ebert.
posted by the bricabrac man at 10:35 AM on February 16, 2010 [13 favorites]


There are a lot of above middle age men still writing columns on culture (Andy Rooney, Gene Weingarten, etc), but of all of them Ebert seems the most in touch. I used to think this was solely because he watched so many movies representing the panoply of human experience. But, after reading this article, I realize it's more than that. He's in touch with humanity because he wants to be. He has made an honest effort with his readers on his blog (and his Twitter) to reach out and see what other people are thinking and feeling. He states his opinion honestly and really engages with his audience. And he's just a beautiful writer. Not many people have that talent. All of this is to say, Ebert is cool.
posted by bluefly at 10:36 AM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


"I just miss the guy so much."

I haven't even read the article yet, and I'm already on the verge of tears just from the excerpts I've read here on other news sites today. His physical transformation from the guy I grew up watching on Siskel & Ebert is shocking and sad to witness, but his writing endures. Thank you, Roger.
posted by wundermint at 10:38 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow. I haven't kept up on his illness so I had no idea.

Amazing.

And fuck Disney.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 10:39 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


We're finally going to EbertFest for the first time this year, I hadn't even thought that it might be the last one. I hope that I will (and know that I won't) have half as much courage and grace facing my fate as he has.
posted by octothorpe at 10:47 AM on February 16, 2010


Wow. Chris Jones, you're a helluva writer, too.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 10:47 AM on February 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


I can honestly say I love Roger Ebert. Anyone who dismisses him disparagingly as "just a movie critic" gets what they deserve by missing out on his journal.
posted by maxwelton at 10:51 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Beautiful.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:52 AM on February 16, 2010


I've got a lot of problems with how easily the word "hero" is tossed around these days; especially when it's applied to people that did nothing other than die horribly, or merely survive some terrible accident through good fortune.

What makes Ebert a hero for me, anyway, is not his surviving the way he has, but how he's choosing to spend his remaining time, especially knowing how limited that time is going to be.

I'd love to think I'd be capable of his grace, openness, self-reflection and passion for life, but I suspect I'd be a morass of self-pity and negativity in similar circumstances.

And I can't imagine how easy it would be to give in to self-pity, self-loathing, and anger, because there would be so much to be angry about.

But here we have Roger Ebert, who has been forced to watch himself almost literally disintegrate; who is incapable of eating, who cannot speak, and who still chooses to live his life in joy and try to share that joy with anyone that cares to partake.

Finding whatever it is inside yourself to not only keep moving on and moving forward, but to live your best in every moment even as you can see the few remaining grains tumble down the hourglass... that's character. Being willing to share these experiences, show yourself wounded, and make your life's work a celebration of life even in radically diminished circumstances -- hell, that's heroic.
posted by Shepherd at 10:54 AM on February 16, 2010 [27 favorites]


A great writer deserved a great write up. This was awesome. And stunning with the picture -- I mean, we all read about the jaw and the botched recovery and if he'd just been 5 minutes out of the hospital he would have been dead, but man, to see that reallly puts it in perspective.
posted by cavalier at 10:58 AM on February 16, 2010


The greatest of the great show up at the right time in history to ascend to their stature. Siskel and Ebert appeared as movie critics in the mid-70s when Hollywood was still disoriented from the loss of all-dominant studios and yet to quash independent-minded films in favor of dollars. The coming of the videocassette player made home movie watching much more common and created a film culture among the everyman. No longer did people have to wait for art houses or television to revive the great films to see them.
When Siskel and Ebert At the Movies began on PBS because the money was still looking the other way. They helped guide the modern rebirth of American cinemaphiles. They instilled in us all an ability to critique films that was derived from a passion for the media. God bless them.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:59 AM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


The best part is the photo... the light and intelligence and wit of the man is right there on his face, undiminished and if anything stronger. The eyes are the window to the soul, and Ethan Hill deserves some kind of award for illustrating that with the portrait.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:05 AM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


There seems to be something in my eye....
posted by anastasiav at 11:08 AM on February 16, 2010


While I disagree with some of Ebert's politics, he is an undisputed genius in his chosen field of film. I have learned so much about movies from him and his massive books - understanding WHY I love certain movies, or what makes a particular movie great (or not). He is a treasure.
posted by davidmsc at 11:14 AM on February 16, 2010


This is a lovely profile of Ebert.

On a related note, it's crazy that a magazine like Esquire can feature a nice picture of Ebert showing how he actually looks, but heaven forbid Vogue show Tina Fey's beautiful cheek scar as it actually looks.
posted by jennyhead at 11:28 AM on February 16, 2010 [5 favorites]


At the start of their walk around the pond, Ebert worries about falling on a small gravel incline. Chaz lets go of his hand. "You can do it," she says, and she claps when Ebert makes it to the top on his own. Later, she climbs on top of a big circular stone. "I'm going to give my prayer to the universe," she says, and then she gives a sun salutation north, south, east, and west. Ebert raises his arms into the sky behind her.

Brilliant and awesome, and yes, there's something in my eye.
posted by scody at 11:30 AM on February 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


I always loved Siskel and Ebert and would go back and forth over which one I liked more. Then, I started reading Ebert's yearly movie guides, and was blown away by his exquisite prose.

So happy to be able to say he's better than ever.

Pedro Almodóvar loves the movies with lust and abandon and the skill of an experienced lover. "Broken Embraces" is a voluptuary of a film, drunk on primary colors, caressing Penélope Cruz, using the devices of a Hitchcock to distract us with surfaces while the sinister uncoils beneath. As it ravished me, I longed for a freeze-frame to allow me to savor a shot.

Roger Ebert is a beautiful, beautiful man.
posted by marsha56 at 11:37 AM on February 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man, please don't start posts like obit posts. PLEASE. My heart can't take it.
posted by graventy at 11:41 AM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

Thanks for this post.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:44 AM on February 16, 2010 [20 favorites]


Ebert's Siskel Tribute is here.
posted by anazgnos at 12:11 PM on February 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


Truly beautiful, thanks for posting this.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:13 PM on February 16, 2010


We could use a million more just like him.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:15 PM on February 16, 2010


Thanks for linking to the tribute, anazgos! I know Ebert's probably already seen it by now, but I tweeted it at him just in case.
posted by Devika at 12:28 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


In Fist Of Legend, classic kung-fu film, there's this Japanese fighter, who everyone calls Japan's greatest martial artist. The main character fights him and (eventually) wins. Someone congratulates him on beating Japan's greatest martial artist, and says that now he's the greatest, and he says "No... when they say he's the greatest, they refer to his dignity, and not his ability to kill."

So ... yeah. Roger Ebert is our greatest film critic.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 12:36 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ebert seems the most in touch. I used to think this was solely because he watched so many movies representing the panoply of human experience. But, after reading this article, I realize it's more than that. He's in touch with humanity because he wants to be. He has made an honest effort with his readers on his blog (and his Twitter) to reach out and see what other people are thinking and feeling. He states his opinion honestly and really engages with his audience. And he's just a beautiful writer.

He's an honest person, which you don't see that much.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:38 PM on February 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


I had the opportunity to be in the same giant room with Ebert once at the World Affairs conference in Boulder (which he started going to before he became famous and went to every year for thirty years) and he was struck me as such an open, honest, wise, friendly, funny and down-to-earth guy. I always thought so much of him. And still do, even more so after reading that Esquire article.
posted by kozad at 1:02 PM on February 16, 2010


Thanks for highlighting that quote Blazecock Pileon. I must have glanced over it when I read the article. I haven't read truer words in quite a while. Man, is that beautiful.
posted by studentbaker at 1:02 PM on February 16, 2010


There seems to be something in my eye....
posted by anastasiav at 2:08 PM on February 16 [+] [!]

Brilliant and awesome, and yes, there's something in my eye.
posted by scody at 2:30 PM on February 16 [+] [!]


it's smoke, guys. smoke gets in your eyes

thanks anazgnos
posted by toodleydoodley at 1:04 PM on February 16, 2010


Ebert's Siskel Tribute is here .

I'm weepy. I really wish for Ebert to have as much time on this earth to see as many films as he wishes to see.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:05 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, I had no idea he had such aggressive cancer. Thanks for posting.
posted by Calzephyr at 1:22 PM on February 16, 2010


His journal is some of the best writing out on the web. His entry on walking around London over the weekend was stunning. To paraphrase, for this man, much thanks.
posted by arcticseal at 1:23 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks so much for posting this. I'll recover in a short while, I'm sure. I can't believe how emotional I am at reading this article. I guess Ebert's presence both on television and most lately in print have been a small, quiet presence (almost wrote "voice") in my life for so long... And I had no real idea what his ordeal was like even despite reading his blog regularly...

Just, yeah. Thanks. I needed to read this.
posted by hippybear at 1:29 PM on February 16, 2010


"He's confronted by elegies everywhere he goes."
posted by mike_bling at 1:48 PM on February 16, 2010


When I think of Siskel and Ebert, I always think of this.
posted by Servo5678 at 2:01 PM on February 16, 2010


Also, at least this proves that there isn't one person who can get decent service out of Comcast. Fuck those assholes, too.
posted by mike_bling at 2:05 PM on February 16, 2010


Beautiful article about a beautiful, beautiful man.
Growing up in Australia meant that my knowledge of Ebert was gained from MAD magazine and I knew he was a film critic. It wasn't until the internets exploded that I learnt just how elegant, smart and funny he was. I actually don't think I've ever seen video footage of him. I should rectify that.

I just want to give the man a hug. I'm in tears here. Yet filled with a warm joy and a desire to create.
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 2:07 PM on February 16, 2010


From his Twitter:

At first I was like :O but then I was like :/ but now I'm like :D

Helluva guy.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:23 PM on February 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


To clarify, Ebert referred in a tweet this morning to the part about how he's "dying in increments" or whatever, and said that he's actually "physically tip-top" at the moment. He went on: "It's true I'm dying--but no faster than anyone else." In the journal entry they quoted called "Go Gentle Into That Good Night," he makes it pretty clear that his ruminations about death and not fearing it are not based on any reason he has to believe that he's any likelier to die in the near future than anyone else.

So if the Esquire piece left you with the impression that he's running out the clock or unlikely to see another Christmas or whatever (which I think he was afraid it would, thus the tweet), I don't think that's the case.
posted by FrozenTundra at 2:23 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a great clip floating around with Siskel and Ebert on Howard Stern. Stern tries to embarrass Ebert by getting a pretty girl to sit in his lap, and Ebert takes it in stride and actually comes off seeming like a great guy. Like I said, I love the man, he has brought a lot of light into the world, especially via his journal, which is a treasure.
posted by maxwelton at 3:36 PM on February 16, 2010


If I were trying to embarrass the man who wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, I think I would use a mechanism other than pretty girls.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:51 PM on February 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


Reading this brought tears to my eyes but at the same time it was the best thing I've read in a while. Good to know he's not going anywhere soon.
posted by tommasz at 4:53 PM on February 16, 2010


If you are not all the familiar with (Siskel and) Ebert, Anazgnos's link will give you a good idea of how America in the eighties came to know them (once the clip stops running, parts two and three are below it). For me, they were nothing more than "those movie critics" until I actually started to read Ebert's column.

In his column, you find the type of writing that just makes you stare at the wall for a bit just astounded of the greatness of it....and then you just want to read more, regardless of whether or not you have any intention of seeing the movie he's written about. His ability to floor us with his writing did not start when he was diagnosed with cancer. It was always there, whether he was expressing outrage, or mirth.

But as far as "being in touch with humanity" goes, that's always been the best part of his writing.

"To know me is to love me.

This cliche is popular for a reason, because most of us, I imagine, believe deep in our hearts that if anyone truly got to know us, they'd truly get to love us - or at least know why we're the way we are. The problem in life, maybe the central problem, is that so few people ever seem to have sufficient curiosity to do the job on us that we know we deserve."
- From his review of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

"Life's missed opportunities, at the end, may seem more poignant to us than those we embraced--because in our imagination they have a perfection that reality can never rival."
- From his review of The Sleepy Time Gal

I'm glad that he's doing better healthwise. But this Esquire story, and the excerpts of my own Journey into the Works of Ebert, are the reasons why when he went from "that movie critic on TV" to a man who, when he does die, I will cry very, very hard.
posted by mreleganza at 4:56 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


*for whom. Ebert would've caught that!
posted by mreleganza at 4:58 PM on February 16, 2010


I can't stand losing him. Who the fuck is going to tell me what movies I am going to love?
posted by rdc at 6:00 PM on February 16, 2010


In the spring of 1998, Siskel and Ebert were invited to speak to students at Harvard Law School. I went, expecting - probably like many others - that they would talk about movies and generally be entertaining. And they did talk about movies, but in a really thoughtful talk in which they each picked three movies that they thought law students or future lawyers should see. They didn't just pick obvious ones (I remember in particular that they talked about a scene from Saturday Night Fever), and their comments were genuinely insightful. It was my first exposure to just what valuable things both Siskel and Ebert had to say.

Nowadays, Ebert is one of my very favourite people on Twitter. The Esquire piece just makes me admire and respect him even more.
posted by sueinnyc at 6:17 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank you for this. Incredible photo portrait and pretty solid writing.

I was just reading that old thank you note he wrote to Rob Schneider, a post-script to the Deuce Bigalow 2 smack-down he dropped. His reviews always have a way of putting a smile on my face, and his battle with cancer has clearly added even more clarity and perspective to his writing. Keep fighting the good fight, Roger..
posted by drpynchon at 7:07 PM on February 16, 2010


That's a really wonderful article, thank you. All teary now.
posted by Nattie at 7:07 PM on February 16, 2010


Let me just add here that I didn't think I could hate Disney any more than I already did.

I was wrong.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:56 PM on February 16, 2010


As a movie-loving kid, I was amazed when I started getting "seriously into film" in college that Ebert was not just the jolly fat dude on TV with the thumbs, but a stunningly good writer of reviews -- some of them far more entertaining than the films themselves.

I often disagree with his overall rating of a film (he'll always rate something higher if it has too much CGI, girls with large breasts/butts or interracial dating. THE CELL, for example, got a positive review), but he's clear why he rates something the way he does enough to give a good understanding of whether I'll like it or not.

It was like rediscovering him all over again when he proved that Twitter was actually worth something with political, movie and personal writing that actually accomplishes something in 140 characters.

Glad to see he's on the Blue again, but please don't peg him as end-o-life. Pick up Great Movies or better yet, I Hated Hated Hated This Movie. Read the blog or Twitter feed. Listen to the commentary on anything -- even BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS.

But don't pity him. He's a feisty bastard and even if he goes, he'll find a way to mock Sarah Palin and praise Jennifer Lopez from beyond the grave.
posted by Gucky at 9:16 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the article: I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

What I love about Roger Ebert is the above. Anyone who has read his columns can feel that this attitude is nothing new. There was always love and empathy in everything he wrote. I felt that as I went through a decade-long spiritual crisis of my own, Ebert's reviews that were laden with this deep ethic of love and openness were changing me. There has always been something about his attitude toward the film - his willingness to give every film a chance to speak on its own terms, and to even give an action film the benefit of the doubt - that I thought reflected a real worldview about relationships, the purpose of our lives, and the deep weight of people, all people. I love the guy. I feel like he saved my life at certain times, even though he was just talking about a movie. I was surprised by it partly because I wasn't expecting it - I wasn't expecting to find the purpose of my life in the ordinary things, like a journalist talking about the latest movie he'd seen, but it did. He's my hero, and has been for about 10 years. I tried to get my wife to agree to name our first born son after him, but Ebert really doesn't have a nice ring to it for a little kid, so we went with something more conventional. Anyway, I'm getting Kinkos to blow up a color picture of this beautiful man (I love this photograph they took of him) and will hang it in my office, and this quote will undoubtedly go somewhere around this cluttered office too.
posted by scunning at 6:54 AM on February 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


More Eberty goodness - Ann Landers introduced him to his wife. And I know it shouldn't matter in this day and age and all that jazz, but something about seeing this particular old white guy in an interracial relationship makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

Also, how amazing are these direct, insightful interview clips with Jason Reitman that Ebert shot himself? He says they need to be edited, but I think they're absolutely perfect as is.
posted by Devika at 5:01 PM on February 17, 2010


About once a year I am fed up with the glossy pretentiousness and commericalized sheen of Esquire and am reluctant to renew. But then I read an in-depth feature like this one and it's more than worth the eight bucks I have to pony up to keep it coming to my house.
posted by cross_impact at 9:23 AM on February 18, 2010


Naturally, Ebert is blogging his thoughts about the piece, under the title "Roger Ebert's Last Words, con't.":
"When I turned to it in the magazine, I got a jolt from the full-page photograph of my jaw drooping. Not a lovely sight. But then I am not a lovely sight, and in a moment I thought, well, what the hell. It's just as well it's out there. That's how I look, after all. {...}

"I mentioned that it was sort of a relief to have that full-page photo of my face. Yes, I winced. What I hated most was that my hair was so neatly combed. Running it that big was good journalism. It made you want to read the article.
Having written his share of frank interviews, Ebert understands what goes into making a good one like Chris Jones's of him, even as he addresses some points from his own perspective. Here's to many, many more of his last words.
posted by Doktor Zed at 12:11 PM on February 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just read the article tonight and cried cried cried the whole time.
posted by ColdChef at 8:08 PM on February 18, 2010


http://www.avclub.com/articles/roger-ebert-speaks-today-on-oprah,38715/

“CereProc is now blending in my audio snippets for Casablanca where I sound enthusiastic, and Floating Weeds, where I sound calm and respectful,” Ebert writes. “It's nice to think of all these great movies sloshing around and coming out as my voice.”
posted by anazgnos at 7:38 AM on March 2, 2010


Ebert... Oprah!

Oprah... Ebert!


Oprah, Ebert... Uma!
posted by mazola at 9:16 AM on March 2, 2010


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