Sometimes you don't realize someone has affected to you until you get hit on the head with a realization. This week, that realization came about for someone whose work I've been enjoying for decades, the film critic and essayist Roger Ebert.
I read his reviews in the newspaper the entire time I lived in Illinois (he was from Urbana-Champaign, where I lived for 16 years, and graduated from the same university I attended). Ebert was always the one my film critic boyfriend said was the "good" one between him and Gene Siskel. And of course, I watched their television show on cinema, some years more faithfully than others, but I did always enjoy his perspective on the movies (did you know he is co-owner of the phrase "Two Thumbs Up"?).
Yes, you wouldn't know it to judge by how few times I've been to the cinema, rented a film, or bought one in the past few years, but for most of my teens, 20s and early 30s, I was quite the cinema student. I even sort of minored in cinema studies as an undergrad (not to mention listening to the boyfriend, who was a future professor of film criticism). So I listened to, read about, and discussed Ebert's opinions. He impressed me as a very thoughtful, articulate man who was not a shill for any big business or organization. That's always refreshing.
I didn't pay a lot of attention to movie critics in the 90s. I was busy gaining weight, raising small children, becoming part of my community, becoming a breastfeeding counselor, moving to a strange new place, and learning HTML in the 90s. I totally lost my intellectual edge.
I did notice when Ebert's partner on the TV show, Gene Siskel, died. I was glad Ebert kept going. And I was saddened to learn of his illness. More important, though, I was very impressed at how he treated his recovery. Few of us have had to go through what he has. One successful cancer treatment, then another, and finally complications that led to an inability to speak. I have spent time imagining what it would be like to make your living using the spoken word, only to lose the ability to talk. It would be discouraging. And what if you made your living on television and people were constantly talking about your looks (I remember lots of fat jokes about him), then your face became disfigured? Would you want to run and hide? I might.
Roger Ebert didn't. When his voice got "funny," he continued to be on the television, assuming, and rightly so, that people would be more interested in what he had to say than how he sounded or looked. He had lost no mental acuity.
And when he could not speak, he still didn't hide. He made the point (as I read on wikipedia) that
"We spend too much time hiding illness." And thank goodness, this man continues to write.
Last week, I was going my usual blog reading and ran across something he wrote, not really about film, but about politics and human nature. It was an entry on his blog, one that tangentially was a "review" of The Reader, but went into so much more detail about other things. It was called "Let Me Tell You What I Think,"
I finished reading this essay simply full to the brim with respect for Ebert's humanity and intellect. I am so glad he didn't go off and hide (and grateful for the Chicago Sun Times for keeping him on staff).
Here's the part of his essay that got to me the most. My blogger friend Ray said, upon reading it, "It's like he is reading y mind!"
That wise man Mark Twain told us: "In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from others."
This is true. It is even sometimes true of me. Perhaps of you. However, there are certain areas in which I consider myself an authority, like the movies. I have devoted years to learning about the Theory of Evolution. I think Creationism is superstitious poppycock. I believe the problem with the literal interpretation of the Bible is that anyone can easily discover its support for the opinions they already hold. I believe Conservatism has proven itself disastrous every time it has been implemented in this country. I believe George W. Bush was not only the worst president we have ever had, but the first, as far as I know, guilty of being an accessory to murder and subverting the Constitution.
Yeah, Mark Twain is a Wednesday Wonder too, doncha think? Now, Ebert has a Roman Catholic background, so he is not anti-religion. He's just anti-ignorance. There's a huge difference.
After reading further in this long and insightful essay, Ebert is raised to hero status in my book. And I have to thank him for having his writings online, because that enables others to comment. And do they ever comment! There are some amazingly intelligent, articulate and thoughtful responses to Ebert's essay that impressed me greatly. And to top it all off, I learned a lot!
So, this brilliant, strong, persistent and courageous man, Roger Ebert, became a shoe-in for Wednesday Wonder as soon as I read this piece. I went back and read more, and now look forward to his future blog postings. Thank goodness he has not been silenced.
More on Roger Ebert:
Let Me Tell You What I Think: a great essay
Wikipedia bio: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Ebert
His Amazon store: http://www.amazon.com/Roger-Ebert/e/B000API2UK