Thursday, May 10, 2012

Ebert Still Rawks

Yeah, I'm a film reviewer. Note I say reviewer, not critic. Although I suppose I am. But I don't have the education, resources or drive to consider myself a critic. And calling oneself a film critic is sort of embarrassing anymore. Hard not to be. But I still get paid to watch movies, so suck it.

As an old guy, I'm gonna tell you about a time when you got your reviews from a newspaper and that was pretty much it. Sometimes pterodactyls had something to say, but nothing more. It took as long as the mid-seventies before someone's lightbulb flickered and the reviewer personality was spawned. Siskel and Ebert gave film critics that public face in the transition from print to pixel, warming us up with a literate Front Page verisimilitude. 

But that didn't last long before the field was rushed by the likes of that Hays Code populist, the bitter queen and sad-faced clowns wearing Groucho glasses to be the public perception of film critic at large. Pimped out by Hollywood to sell the product.

Yeah, easy targets. But the old school is pretty fair game these days.

Of course the advent of blogger has pretty much swept up the field and wheeled the trash out to the parking lot. Which might work as a metaphor but doesn't make it all good. As anyone that's done any dumpster diving before can and will tell you, sometimes there's some spectacular finds that make wading through the trash worth it.

Getting back to Ebert. He's one of the good guys. I wouldn't have thought it at first. He was the fat one who was always getting cut up like a Butterball turkey by the tall, sanguine guy. And he talked smack about Night of the Living Dead. I can put religion aside, though. He also wrote the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Granted, the screenplay ran 183 pages, but still...Russ Meyer, man. And the script for the Sex Pistols movie. That also makes him a rare critic who isn't a failed screenwriter.

But aside from that he's always been reliable and accessible. No counterpointing the surrealism of the underlying metaphor for him, although you get the vibe he can. Just what he thinks about the film in a way that gives you a vibe he isn't selling product, just sitting across the aisle from you, ready to discuss. He knows his shit, and obviously loves what he's spent his whole life doing.

Which makes it weird that his only relevance anymore seems to be as a punchline to an ongoing online cancer joke. Mention Ebert and within a few posts some yahoo yells "Free Bird!" Seems weird to have to point this out so far into the 21st century, but it's just really bad form to make fun of someone's misfortune. Unless they earn it. Something really bad is going to happen to everyone at some point, and absolutely no one wants to be heckled about it. Right?

But here's the thing...the dude lost his moneymaker and he's still plugging along, still writing. Gone full circle. Obviously he's still making money, but he's making it on his own terms, despite what's been thrown at him. He throws back film festivals and probably loses money.

That seems like a good life.

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