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The Fate of Roger Ebert’s Legacy

Posted on February 17 2010 6:00 am
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“I’m so relieved to be an elite” –tweet from Roger Ebert

Most public figures have done or said something they wish they could take back. When it comes to public intellectuals and film critics specifically, they generally pride themselves on their ability to analyze what they see. Therefore, their responses to culture should be very measured and reasonable.

This was the case with Roger Ebert (usually) until last year when he began to fall off the ledge of grounded thought. For the last few months I’ve been trying to give Ebert the benefit of the doubt with his political ramblings. At this point, it’s getting harder and harder to do and now I’m afraid that his highly respected legacy is coming into question very fast. This thought pains me as I look across the room at a copy of his book The Great Movies.

It isn’t because he is a lefty. That doesn’t bother me. It is that his comments have become unhinged and it pains me to see a critic I have long respected go down this road that is reserved for corrupt and insensitive political types. My concerns began when Ebert unfairly criticized Bill O’Reilly and David Swindle and I co-authored a response.

Ebert went off the deep end for good once he was introduced to twitter and I responded to his numerous tweets joking about Rush Limbaugh’s recent health scare which felt unwarranted seeing that Ebert has major health issues of his own. While both Limbaugh and O’Reilly regularly deserve some criticism, I always expect useful thougts from someone as astute as Ebert. NewsReal Blog’s own David Forsmark has also expressed concern.

As long as I have been serious about film I’ve been reading Ebert’s work. I would be lying if I didn’t say he had a large impact on how I see film. He helped set a standard for film criticism that he is quickly destroying. For quite some time he has been going after the tea party movement by using ridiculous and disgusting phrases like “tea baggers.” Big Hollywood’s Editor-in-chief John Nolte called Ebert out and asked him to just say what he really means:

“We’re not as enamored as he is with the man currently occupying the Oval Office. Disagree, argue, that’s all fine. But he’s calling us “teabaggers,” and he knows full well what that means. And he’s calling us “teabaggers”  because he doesn’t have the guts to come right out and call us “c***suckers.”

Ebert has responded to some of Nolte’s writing, again on twitter. Big Hollywood has begun to ask Ebert to retract some of his words via their new retraction vehicle (read this and this) with minimal success. It is clear that Ebert no longer cares what people think of him, which is sad when it concerns someone who has been highly respected for so long.

Today in Esquire there is a wonderful yet sad piece by Chris Jones about Ebert’s disintegrating health over the last few years. It talks about the troubles Ebert has in doing every day things like eating, speaking, or even sitting up straight for a long duration. The pictures featured in the article as well as the images described are hard to place with the larger-than-life voice Ebert has had for decades. One good thing remains, Ebert has not lost his ability to enjoy watching movies and writing about them. That is a blessing I hope he is awarded as long as he lives.

Ebert knows he is dying, Jones writes:

There has been no death-row conversion. He has not found God. He has been beaten in some ways. But his other senses have picked up since he lost his sense of taste. He has tuned better into life. Some things aren’t as important as they once were; some things are more important than ever. He has built for himself a new kind of universe.

Ebert now only speaks through writing and a state of the art voice machine through which he told Jones:

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.

I take Ebert at his word. I believe he is a good person and means well. His impressive body of work will live on long after he is gone. Reading a lengthy article about Ebert’s struggles makes me feel for the man regardless of his outrageous political ramblings. I know he has much greater things to offer and has made a career doing just that. When living is difficult such as the case with Ebert, I can’t imagine why he would waste his time tweeting about how stupid the readers of Big Hollywood are.

The Esquire article mentioned that Ebert has a new book coming out, The Great Movies III. I deeply enjoy his Great Movies books as they are truly Ebert at his best. He is a man who loves film from the depths of his heart as many of us do and it shines through brilliantly in these books. This is what I want to remember Ebert for. I would hate for his “last words” to be a series of stupid remarks about Sarah Palin or tea partiers.

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