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Roger Ebert

Roger Joseph Ebert (iːbɝt) born June 18, 1942) is an American film critic and screenwriter. He is known for his weekly review column (appearing in the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967, and later online) and for two television programs Sneak Previews and Siskel & Ebert at the Movies, which he co-hosted for a combined 23 years with Gene Siskel. After Siskel's death in 1999, he auditioned several potential replacements, ultimately choosing Richard Roeper to fill the open chair. The program was retitled Ebert & Roeper at the Movies in 2000. Although his name remains in the title, he has not appeared on the show since mid-2006 when he suffered a medical crisis which has left him unable to speak. Roeper continued to host the show through the 2007-2008 TV season with a rotating set of guest critics, with Michael Phillips easily having the most such appearances.

Ebert ended his association with the show in July 2008, after the studio indicated they wished to take the show in a new direction. He still owns the trademark phrase "Two Thumbs Up" along with the widow of Gene Siskel. Roeper had announced his decision to leave the show one day earlier.

Ebert's movie reviews are syndicated to more than 200 newspapers in the United States and abroad. He has written more than 15 books, including his annual movie yearbook. In 1975, Ebert became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. His television programs have also been widely syndicated, and have been nominated for Emmy awards. In February 1995, a section of Chicago's Erie Street near the CBS Studios was given the honorary name Siskel & Ebert Way. Ebert was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in June 2005, the first professional film critic to receive one. Roger Ebert was named as the most influential pundit in America by Forbes Magazine, beating the likes of Bill Maher, Lou Dobbs, and Bill O'Reilly. He has honorary degrees from the University of Colorado, the American Film Institute, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Since 1994, he has written a Great Movies series of individual reviews of what he deems to be the most important films of all time. Since 1999, he has hosted the annual Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival in Champaign, Illinois.

Early life

Ebert was born in Urbana, Illinois, the son of Annabel (née Stumm) and Walter H. Ebert, a German-American immigrant. His interest in journalism began as a student at Urbana High School, where he was a sports writer for The News-Gazette in Champaign, Illinois. However, he began his writing career with letters of comment to the science fiction fanzines of the era. In his senior year he was co-editor of his high school newspaper, The Echo.

In 1958, Ebert won the Illinois High School Association state speech championship in Radio Speaking, an event that simulates radio newscasts.

Ebert received his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was editor of The Daily Illini and member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. One of the first movie reviews he ever wrote was a review of La dolce vita, published in The Daily Illini in October 1961.

Ebert did his graduate study in English at the University of Cape Town under a Rotary International Fellowship. He was a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Chicago. He was a Sun-Times feature reporter when the film critic position was offered to him by the Sun-Times.

Career

Ebert began his professional critic career in 1967, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times. In 1969, his review of Night of the Living Dead was published in Reader's Digest.

In 1975, Ebert and Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune began co-hosting a weekly film review television show, Sneak Previews, which was locally produced by the Chicago public broadcasting station WTTW. The show was picked up by PBS in 1978 for national distribution. In 1982, the critics moved to a syndicated commercial television show named At the Movies, and later, Siskel & Ebert at The Movies, where they were known for their "thumbs up/thumbs down" review summaries. When Siskel died in 1999, the producers retitled the show Roger Ebert at the Movies with rotating co-hosts. In September 2000, fellow Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper became the permanent co-host and the show was renamed At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper.

Ebert has also done DVD audio commentaries for several films, including Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Dark City, Floating Weeds, Crumb, and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (for which Ebert also wrote the screenplay, based on a story that he co-wrote with Russ Meyer).

On the day of the Academy Awards, Ebert and Roeper typically appear on the live pre-awards show, An Evening at the Academy Awards: The Arrivals. This airs prior to the awards ceremony show, which also features red carpet interviews and fashion commentary. They also appear on the post-awards show entitled An Evening at the Academy Awards: the Winners. Both shows are produced and aired by the American Broadcasting Company owned station in Los Angeles station KABC-TV. This show also airs on WLS-TV as well as the network's other owned stations along with being syndicated to several ABC affiliates and other broadcasters outside the country. Ebert did not appear on the 2007 show for medical reasons.

Other career highlights

As a teenager, Ebert was involved in science fiction fandom, writing articles for fanzines, including Richard A. Lupoff's Xero.

Ebert co-wrote the screenplay for the 1970 cult film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, directed by Russ Meyer, and likes to joke about being responsible for the poorly received film. Ebert and Meyer also made Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, Up!, and others, and were involved in the ill-fated Sex Pistols movie Who Killed Bambi?.

In 1996, he appeared in "Pitch", a documentary by acclaimed Canadian film maker, Kenny Hotz.

Other appearances

In 2003, Ebert had a cameo appearance in the film Abby Singer in which he recited the white parasol monologue from Citizen Kane.

Ebert, along with colleague Gene Siskel, guest starred on an episode of the animated TV series The Critic. In the episode, Siskel and Ebert split and each wants Jay as his new partner. The episode is a parody of the film Sleepless in Seattle.

Style of critique and personal tastes

Ebert has described his critical approach to films as "relative, not absolute"; he reviews a film for what he feels will be its prospective audience, yet always with at least some consideration as to its value as a whole. He awards four stars to films of the highest quality, and generally a half star to those of the lowest unless he considers the film to be "artistically inept" and/or "morally repugnant" in which case, it will receive no stars.

Ebert has emphasized that his star ratings have little meaning if not considered in the context of the review itself. Occasionally (as in his review of Basic Instinct 2), Ebert's star rating may seem at odds with his written opinion. Ebert has acknowledged such cases, stating "I cannot recommend the movie, but ... why the hell can't I? Just because it's God-awful? What kind of reason is that for staying away from a movie? God-awful and boring, that would be a reason. In his review of The Manson Family, he gave the film three stars for achieving what it set out to do, but admitted that didn't count as a recommendation per se. He similarly gave the Adam Sandler-starring remake of The Longest Yard a positive rating of three stars, but in his review, which he wrote soon after attending the Cannes Film Festival, he recommended readers not see the film because they had access to more satisfying cinematic experiences.

Ebert has reprinted his starred reviews in movie guides. In his numerous appearances on The Howard Stern Show, he has been frequently challenged to defend his ratings. Ebert stood by his opinions with one notable exception: when Stern pointed out that Ebert had given The Godfather Part II a three-star rating, but had given The Godfather Part III three and a half stars (however he has recently added Part II to his list of "Great Movies").

Ebert has occasionally accused some films of having an unwholesome political agenda, and the word "fascist" accompanied more than one of Ebert's reviews of the law-and-order films of the 1970s such as Dirty Harry. He is also suspicious of films that are passed off as art, but which he sees as merely lurid and sensational. Ebert has leveled this charge against such films as The Night Porter and Blue Velvet.

Ebert's reviews can clash with the overall reception of movies, as evidenced by his negative review of the 1988 Bruce Willis action film Die Hard, and his positive review of 1997's Speed 2: Cruise Control. Ebert often makes heavy use of mocking sarcasm, especially when reviewing movies he considers bad. At other times he is direct, famously in his review of the 1994 Rob Reiner comedy North, which he concluded by writing that:

Ebert's reviews are also often characterized by dry wit. In January 2005, when Rob Schneider insulted Los Angeles Times movie critic Patrick Goldstein, who panned his movie Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo by commenting that the critic was unqualified because he had never won the Pulitzer Prize, Ebert intervened by stating that, as a Pulitzer winner, he was qualified to review the film, and bluntly told Schneider, "Your movie sucks.

Ebert has been known to comment on films using his own Roman Catholic upbringing as a point of reference, and has been critical of films he believes are grossly ignorant or insulting of Catholicism, such as Stigmata and Priest, though he has given favorable reviews of controversial films with themes or references to Jesus and Catholicism, including The Passion of the Christ, Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ, and to Kevin Smith's religious satire Dogma. However, Ebert identifies himself today as an agnostic.

He often includes personal anecdotes in his reviews when he considers them relevant. He has occasionally written reviews in the forms of stories, poems, songs, scripts, open letters, or imagined conversations. He has written many essays and articles exploring the field of film criticism in depth.

Ebert has been accused of bourgeois elitism in his dismissal of what he calls "Dead Teenager Movies". Ebert has clarified that he does not disparage horror movies as a whole, but that he draws a distinction between films like Nosferatu and The Silence of the Lambs, which he regards as "masterpieces", and films which he feels consist of nothing more than groups of teenagers being killed off with the exception of one survivor to populate a sequel.

In August 2004 Stephen King, criticizing what he saw as a growing trend of leniency towards films by critics, included Ebert among a number of "formerly reliable critics who seem to have gone remarkably soft – not to say softhearted and sometimes softheaded – in their old age.

Ebert has indicated that his favorite film is Citizen Kane, although he has expressed ambivalence in naming this film in answer to this question, preferring to emphasize it as "the most important" film. His favorite actor is Robert Mitchum, and his favorite actress is Ingrid Bergman. Ebert has emphasized his general distaste for "top ten" lists, and all movie lists in general, but due to his participation in the 2002 Sight and Sound Directors' poll, he has revealed his top-ten films (alphabetically): Aguirre, Wrath of God, Apocalypse Now, Citizen Kane, Dekalog, La dolce vita, The General, Raging Bull, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Tokyo Story, and Vertigo.

Ebert has long been an admirer of director Werner Herzog, whom he supported through many years when Herzog's popularity had been eclipsed. He conducted an onstage public "conversation" with Herzog at the Telluride Film Festival in 2004, after a screening of Herzog's film Invincible at the Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival. Herzog dedicated his 2008 film Encounters at the End of the World to Ebert, and Ebert responded with a heartfelt public letter of gratitude.

Views on the film industry

Ebert is an outspoken opponent of the Motion Picture Association of America film rating system. He has repeatedly criticized their decisions regarding which movies are "suitable for children." For example, Whale Rider and School of Rock were both rated PG-13 (not recommended for children under the age of thirteen), while he thought both were inoffensive enough for schoolchildren and contained positive messages for that age group. In his review of The Exorcist, Ebert said it was "stupefying" that the film received a rating of "R" from the MPAA instead of an "X" (suitable only for adults). He has frequently argued that the MPAA is more likely to give an "R" rating for mild sexual content than for highly violent content. In his review of The Passion of The Christ (to which he awarded a perfect four stars), he was quoted as saying: "I said the film is the most violent I have ever seen. The MPAA's R rating is definitive proof that the organization either will never give the NC-17 rating for violence alone, or was intimidated by the subject matter. If it had been anyone other than Jesus up on that cross, I have a feeling that NC-17 would have been automatic."

He also frequently laments that cinemas outside major cities are "booked by computer from Hollywood with no regard for local tastes", making high-quality independent and foreign films virtually unavailable to most American moviegoers.

Ebert is a strong advocate for Maxivision 48, in which the movie projector runs at 48 frames per second, as compared to the usual 24 frames per second. He is opposed to the practice whereby theatres lower the intensity of their projector bulbs in order to extend the life of the bulb, arguing that this has little effect other than to make the film harder to see.

Personal life

Since the 1970s, Ebert has worked for the University of Chicago as a guest lecturer, teaching a night class on film. His fall 2005 class was on the works of the German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Ebert married trial attorney Charlie (Chaz) Hammel-Smith on July 18, 1992, and has a stepdaughter, a stepson, and three grandchildren. He has been friends with, and at one time dated, Oprah Winfrey, who credits him with encouraging her to go into syndication. He is also good friends with film historian and critic Leonard Maltin, and considers the book Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide to be the standard of film guide books.

A supporter of the Democratic Party, Ebert publicly urged liberal filmmaker Michael Moore to give a politically-charged acceptance speech at the Academy Awards: "I'd like to see Michael Moore get up there and let 'em have it with both barrels and really let loose and give them a real rabble-rousing speech.

Battle with thyroid cancer

In early 2002, Ebert was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer. In February of that year, surgeons at Northwestern Memorial Hospital were able to successfully remove the cancer with clean margins. He later underwent surgery in 2003 for cancer in his salivary gland and in December 2003, he underwent a four-week course of radiation treatment as a follow-up to the surgery on his salivary gland, which altered his voice slightly. As he battled the illness, Ebert continued to be a dedicated critic of film, not missing a single opening while undergoing treatment.

He underwent further surgery June 16, 2006, just two days before his 64th birthday, to remove cancer near his right jaw and a section of jaw bone.

On July 1, Ebert was hospitalized in serious condition after his carotid artery burst near the surgery site and he "came within a breath of death". He later learned that the burst was likely a side effect of his treatment, which involved neutron beam radiation. He was subsequently kept bed-ridden to prevent further damage to the scarred vessels in his neck while he slowly recovered from multiple surgeries and the rigorous treatment regimen. At one point, his status was so precarious that Ebert had a tracheostomy done on his neck to reduce the effort of breathing while he recovered.

Ebert taped enough TV programs with his co-host Richard Roeper to keep him on the air for a few weeks. However, his extended convalescence has necessitated a series of "guest critics" to co-host with Roeper, including Jay Leno (a good friend to both Ebert and Roeper), Kevin Smith, John Ridley, Toni Senecal, Christy Lemire, Michael Phillips, Aisha Tyler, Fred Willard, Anne Thompson, A.O. Scott, Mario Van Peebles, George Pennacchio, Brad Silberling, and John Mellencamp. As of April 2008, most recent episodes have featured either Michael Phillips or A.O. Scott as co-host.

An update from Ebert on October 11, 2006 confirmed his bleeding problems had been resolved. He was undergoing rehabilitation at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago due to lost muscle mass, and later underwent further rehabilitation at the Pritikin Center in Florida."

On 7 May 2007, Roger Ebert reported on his website that he had received a bouquet of flowers from Rob Schneider, with a note signed, "Your least favorite actor, Rob Schneider." Ebert saw the flowers as a kind gesture and publicly thanked Schneider, and said that Schneider may have made a bad film, but he was not a bad man. Ebert also expressed hope that Schneider would make a film that Ebert would find wonderful.

After a three-month absence, the first movie he reviewed was The Queen. Ebert made his first public appearance since the summer of 2006 at Ebertfest on April 25, 2007. He was unable to speak but communicated through his wife, Chaz, through the use of written notes. His opening words to the crowd of devout fans at the festival were a reference to the film he co-wrote with Russ Meyer, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: "It's my happening and it freaks me out." Most fans and journalists believed the remark to be a reference to the dramatic rise in popularity of Ebertfest over the past few years. Others believed the line to be a subtle reference to how, instead of acting as a critic, he had actually become the protagonist, to the degree where it 'freaked' him out — a sardonic and endearing reference typical of Ebert's writing style and spoken commentary.

In an interview with WLS-TV in Chicago, he said, "I was told photos of me in this condition would attract the gossip papers — so what?" When asked by the Sun-Times in an April 23 article about his decision to return to the limelight, Ebert remarked, "We spend too much time hiding illness.

Fans at his website have remarked his public appearances have been inspirational to cancer victims and survivors around the country. He will need reconstructive surgery on his jaw, a relatively dangerous procedure in light of the damage to the vessels already seen when his artery burst during earlier treatment.

On the road to recovery

Ebert returned to reviewing on May 18, 2007, when three of his reviews (including Shrek the Third) were published by the Chicago Sun-Times as well as his website, a role that his editor had shouldered during the critic's illness. Thereafter he slowly worked back up to his previous output of 5-6 reviews a week plus a "Great Movies" review. He also resumed his "Answer Man" column.

In a July 21, 2007 commentary on a rebuttal to Clive Barker, he revealed that he had lost the ability to speak, but not to write. He recently posted reviews of the 2006 film Casino Royale and the 2007 films Zodiac and Ratatouille with a note that he was in the process of going back and reviewing some of the movies that were released during his absence. He attended the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, while awaiting surgery that was hoped to restore his voice.

Currently, he talks using a computerized voice system. He initially chose to use a voice with a British accent that he named "Lawrence", but eventually began using one with an American accent.

Ebert underwent further surgery on January 24, 2008, this time in Houston, to address the complications from his previous surgeries. A statement afterwards from Ebert and his wife indicated that "the surgery went well, and the Eberts look forward to giving you more good news ..., but on April 1, the 41st anniversary as film critic at the Sun-Times, Ebert announced that there had been further complications and his speech had not been restored. His love for movies and writing remain intact. He wrote, "I am still cancer-free, and not ready to think about more surgery at this time. I should be content with the abundance I have." His columns resumed shortly after the April 23 opening of his annual film festival at the University of Illinois. In a response to a comment on his blog in August, 2008, he all but conceded that he would never regain his speaking voice.

Hip injury

Prior to the festival, Ebert went to the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa for physical therapy. On April 18, 2008, it was announced that he had fractured his hip in a fall there and had undergone surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, back in Chicago, to repair the injury. After consulting his doctors he decided he could not attend the festival, instead writing occasional blogs on the festival films.

Boulder Pledge

The Boulder Pledge is a personal promise, first coined by Roger Ebert in 1996, not to purchase anything offered through email spam. The pledge is worded by Ebert as follows:

Under no circumstances will I ever purchase anything offered to me as the result of an unsolicited e-mail message. Nor will I forward chain letters, petitions, mass mailings, or virus warnings to large numbers of others. This is my contribution to the survival of the online community.

Ebert coined the term during a panel at the University of Colorado at Boulder's Conference on World Affairs in 1996. He wrote the text which appears above and encouraged everyone to take the pledge. It was subsequently published in the December 1996 issue of Yahoo! Internet Life magazine in Ebert's column titled "Enough! A Modest Proposal to End the Junk Mail Plague."

The Boulder Pledge has become one of the basic principles of the anti-spam community in an attempt to make e-mail spam less profitable.

Bibliography

Each year, Ebert publishes Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook, a book containing all his movie reviews from the last three years, as well as essays and other writings. He has also written the following books:

  • Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert (ISBN-10 0-226-18200-2) — a collection of essays from his forty years as a film critic, featuring interviews, profiles, essays, his initial reviews upon a film's release, as well as critical exchanges between the film critics Richard Corliss and Andrew Sarris
  • Ebert's "Bigger" Little Movie Glossary (ISBN 0-8362-8289-2) — a book of movie clichés
  • The Great Movies (ISBN 0-7679-1038-9) and The Great Movies II (ISBN 0-7679-1950-5) — two books of essays about great films
  • I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie (ISBN 0-7407-0672-1) — a collection of reviews of films that received two stars or fewer.
  • Roger Ebert's Book of Film (ISBN 0-393-04000-3) — a Norton Anthology of a century of writing about the movies
  • Questions For The Movie Answer Man (ISBN 0-8362-2894-4) — his responses to questions sent from his readers
  • Behind the Phantom's Mask (ISBN 0-8362-8021-0) — his first attempt at fiction.
  • An Illini Century (ASIN B0006OW26K) — the history of the first 100 years of the University of Illinois
  • The Perfect London Walk (ISBN 0-8362-7929-8) — a tour of Ebert's favorite foreign city
  • Your Movie Sucks (ISBN 0-7407-6366-0) — a new collection of less-than-two-star reviews.

See also

References

External links


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