If it wasn’t for Roger Ebert, and his longtime movie sparring partner Gene Siskel, many of us who call ourselves movie critics would not be working today. Access Hollywood, TMZ, even Entertainment Tonight owe more than a small debt of gratitude to the two cantankerous movie critics who slyly brought elevated discussion about movies as art to the TV screen and demonstrated how the audience was ready to analyze and discuss entertainment as fervently as sports or politics.
Like many, I was first drawn to the entertainment value of it all. I didn’t always agree with what Roger and Gene had to say about movies, and I didn’t always know who these people or movies they were talking about were, but it sure was fun to watch. Without manufacturing it, the two had an amazing ability to get under each other’s skin to make us laugh because they were so impassioned about film and what it could, and should, accomplish.
However, their true legacy was highlighting, championing and publicizing small, independent films, something Roger continued to do after the passing of Siskel. They inspired in me the desire to find those gems that weren’t always going to play in the theaters around my hometown. Watching Siskel and Ebert was like a fun class which handed out assignments to find those movies and to look at every film through a more demanding lens. You were allowed to enjoy your popcorn flicks, but they also encouraged anyone with a love of art to take a chance and expand their search beyond the big blockbusters. It was amazing what you could find, and I had to thank them for leading me there.
Plenty of people have asked me today who will be the next Roger Ebert, but this is not like The Tonight Show where one guy leaves Stage Right as the next guy enters Stage Left. News organizations don’t treat Entertainment News with the same seriousness as Sports and don’t dedicate resources to cover the business, and movie studios, who are becoming more demanding and controlling by the day, try to squash dissenting opinion at every turn, and only hand out the best access to those who won’t rock the boat.
Roger Ebert was an original, he dared to call it like he saw it, and no one will ever reach his level of influence again.