Friday, January 15, 2010

Why Roger Ebert Is My Hero

Roger Ebert is the most revered film critic in history. While I regularly disagree with his star ratings (3 stars for Speed 2: Cruise Control?), his reviews are thoughtful and completely stripped of pretensions. He makes a conscious effort to gauge a film's success not on artistic merit alone, but on how it will be received by its prospective audience. He loves watching films more than just about anything and this is clear in every review he pens. Even when he completely loathes a film, he comes across as more disappointed than angry, as though he really expected Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo to be a bit more complex and subtle. He has published twelve books on film in his 42 years as a critic, owns the first Pulitzer Prize ever awarded for Criticism and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He has certainly lived a full and noble life, but this alone is not why he is such an inspiration.

In 2002, Roger Ebert was diagnosed with Thyroid cancer, which later spread to his salivary glands. Throughout everything, he remained dedicated to film and never missed an opening. The surgeries and radiation treatment altered his voice, but he was given a clean bill of health. Later, in 2006, he required further surgery for cancer surrounding his jaw, which involved removing a portion of his jawbone. Two weeks following this treatment, Ebert's carotid artery burst and he became bedridden in serious condition. After months of intense physical therapy, he was able to return to film criticism in earnest, albeit unable to speak, eat or drink. He even made an effort to go back and review films that he missed while he was receiving treatment. After 3 further surgeries to try to restore his speech (all of which failed) and a broken hip, he resolved to "be content with the abundance that I have". While still publishing his requisite 5-6 reviews a week and a regular "Answer Man" column, he introduced his blog about a year ago which has amassed a devoted following. It is really fantastic. His most recent entry is about "making out".

Regardless of your level of film enthusiasm, Roger Ebert is an inspiring figure. One who had it all and lost nearly everything, but still counts his blessings every day that he is still able to do what he loves. He has evolved around his disabilities and managed to touch even more people in the process. He surely has enough money to spend the rest of his days on some European beach, but instead, at the age of 67 he spends his days trying to find nice things to say about Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel. Talk about selfless. Roger Ebert: ****

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