Watch: Before ‘Everest’: The Allure of the Mountain Climber’s Tale

Watch: Before ‘Everest’: The Allure of the Mountain Climber’s Tale

In his review of Franc Roddam’s 1992 mountain climbing movie ‘K2,’ Roger Ebert wrote: "If I ever fell off a mountain, I would shout ‘Stupid! Stupid!’ at myself all the way down, for having willingly and through great effort put myself in a position to fall to my death." I thought about that line as I watched the trailer for the new star-studded film Everest, which traces the real life events—and lives lost—from the disaster at Mount Everest in 1996. ‘Everest‘ is a film that I find of particular interest: a red-blooded survival tale set in one of the world’s most unforgiving, freezing and deadly mountains. There’s no doubt I will be engrossed by the setting of this film alone, but Ebert’s blunt take-down of the genre—and of the real life mountain climbing sport in general for that matter—made me revisit some favorite mountain movie titles from my childhood, such as ‘Cliffhanger‘ and ‘Alive.’ Those were two films about two very different sets of people stranded in the snowy mountains: one concerns heroes who are professional mountain climbers fighting armed henchmen and the other recreates a bizarre, true story survival tale of a Uruguayan rugby team that resorted to cannibalism after their plane crashed in the Andes mountains. I thought about the films’ differences in regard to their respective plots and what was at stake—but this consideration was soon eclipsed by the bigger, more worldly theme of mortality. At the end of the day, these mountains serve as domineering and unnatural environments for us; we probably shouldn’t be up there climbing in the first place. No matter how different one mountain-climbing film is from the next one, they all share the same absolute truth, in that we are deeply humbled by how deadly these snowy wonders of Earth are. And when some of these films look at a mountain’s visual majesty as a means for spirituality, they only get to that personal epiphany after putting their protagonists through tragic loss or defeat. The mountain is supposed to represent life’s hurdles, life’s challenges. Even when we reach the top of the mountain, we are reminded of how small, frail and, in some instances, alone we are in the grand scheme of things. And there’s a terrifying beauty and an unapologetic humanity in that. So if one were to look at it that way, maybe falling from the mountain is an act of humility; it’s the most outward physical gesture that proves we tried elevating ourselves in the first place.

Nelson Carvajal is an independent digital filmmaker, writer and content creator based out of Chicago, Illinois. His digital short films usually contain appropriated content and have screened at such venues as the London Underground Film Festival. Carvajal runs a blog called FREE CINEMA NOWwhich boasts the tagline: "Liberating Independent Film And Video From A Prehistoric Value System." You can follow Nelson on Twitter here.

The Sobering, Beautiful Lessons of LIFE ITSELF

The Sobering, Beautiful Lessons of LIFE ITSELF

nullI almost didn’t write this review. This was not because I didn’t
appreciate the film at hand, but because a question was nagging at me. It’s a
question that I ask before I write any treatment of a book or a film, and it
runs something like, What can I bring to
this piece that will both serve the work and be memorable for its readers,
personal in some sense?
In the month leading up to the film’s release, an
intimidating number of reviews have appeared of it. In the most notable of those
reviews, the reviewer has a relationship with Roger Ebert, the film’s subject, either
by dint of personal acquaintance or lifelong worship, and so the reviews
express heartfelt respect mingled with critical assessment. He was a great
nurturer of film critics, around the world, in fact—and someone who maintained
contact with a vast network of people throughout his life, right up to its end.
And so I was wondering, what can I bring to this piece that hasn’t already been
brought? Where’s my 50 years of film criticism? 25? 10? 5? Who the heck am I to be
writing this? Put more gently, the question was: what in the
film would speak to me, trigger a response that might be
interesting to both me and to readers? I might like the film, but what in it
might flip the switch, give me an entry into it?

As it turns out, quite a bit. 

To begin, there’s the pure story of it. The film starts with intensely wrenching footage of
Ebert in the hospital. As most who know anything about his life already know,
by the end of his life, due to numerous complications that had begun in 2002 with cancer in his thyroid gland, he had no lower jaw, he couldn’t drink, he couldn’t eat, he couldn’t swallow, and he couldn’t speak. He was fed through a tube, and periodically he had to
undergo a painful process called “suction,” during which the look of pain in
his eyes is quite hard to watch. After this beginning, though, quite quickly,
we ease into a very different sort of film. A rolling, ambling melody on the soundtrack, with
pianos and horns and drums mingling in an easy way, pushes us forward, in a
slow and graceful manner. We’ve seen the end of his life, and now we’re seeing
the beginning. It’s a great story, told here by director Steve James at a reasonable, comfortable pace, as if to make sure he included every last correct detail–but at the same time it is never tedious or boring. As a young man, growing up in Chicago, Ebert
wanted to be a journalist, and so he become one, pursuing the career as
aggressively as he could. The earliest writings we sample are from the
newspaper of the University of Illinois, and they display the same
intensity and communicativeness that would serve him throughout his life, as he
chronicles such 1960s mileposts as the assassination of JFK and the infamous bombing of a church in
Birmingham, Alabama, among other events. Then we watch his rise to
prominence through his career as a film critic at the Chicago
lasting through different ownerships, always a stolid employee,
filing his reviews dutifully as the paper sorted and resorted itself, and then winning
the Pulitzer in 1983. Up until this point, Ebert has been a model of both focus
and of living with enthusiasm; his colleagues describe his ability to simply
conceptualize a review and write it down, often in half an hour’s time. We also
learn that, if not always a prince among men (due to heavy carousing, sleeping
with prostitutes, and other kinds of debauchery), he was someone who was always
lively, and a remarkable storyteller, not above swinging from a lamp at O’Rourke’s,
his favorite bar in Chicago. We learn, too, about his realization of his
significant drinking problem, and his subsequent abstinence after 1979.

The story shifts, then, bringing us to one of its most
poignant parts, the description of his relationship with Gene Siskel, his
longtime partner for the TV show, Siskel and Ebert at the Movies. One is Ivy-educated, the other not;
one hobnobs with Hugh Hefner, the other could never. The relationship is like
one you might find in a novel: multi-layered, storied, full of witty repartee,
theatrical, at its funniest during out-takes where Ebert mocks Siskel’s
delivery and Siskel mocks Ebert’s arrogance, at its saddest when we realize the two never fully expressed their respect for each other to each other. After many years of striving for
national broadcast, the show finally achieves it, and the two become the most
widely known film reviewers in American history. In a further personal ascent, indeed a milestone, Ebert
marries the charismatic, compassionate Chaz Ebert, at age 50. A life of hard work, then, leads to a very happy marriage. Next, though, tragedy strikes. In another kind of story,
this would be called a turning point, at which the protagonist must make a
decision which will affect the story’s outcome. Here, Ebert is given a tremendous
obstacle to handle, in the form of his thyroid cancer. Where most would buckle,
Ebert decides to take another course, one anyone could learn from.

Survival is difficult, either at the most basic level of
life or in a career of any sort. Several qualities are needed: aggression,
toughness, and patience are three of them. Also, though, one needs flexibility,
the ability to take things as they come, roll with the punches, and move
forward. Ebert certainly possessed that quality. As his sickness worsened, it’s
no secret to his fans that his review output grew, primarily through his
website. We learn that he was a huge advocate of social media, from its
earliest days forward, and that his Twitter feed was legendary; we can only
think that he understood his need to communicate, to interact, was part of his
life force, and that it fed him as he continued to work, and he used these avenues because they were readily available to him, and he recognized that he had no other choice. Even in his last hours,
he was emailing with the filmmaker; one of his last acts on the planet was a
blog post. James, throughout the film, does a wonderful job of showing the
difficulties of incapacity, both for Ebert and for those around him: the pain of
walking, after a hip injury; the awkwardness of having to write statements down
on paper, the urgency of expression sometimes making him near-frantic; and the
sadness of not being able to enjoy the things he might have once enjoyed. It’s
to James’ great credit, though, that these moments aren’t sentimental in the
least; James’ camera, indeed, his entire aesthetic skews away from sentiment.
What also helps to ward off sentimentality is a basic truth about Ebert himself,
which would make sentiment somewhat impossible: he was of a very particular
tribe, that of doers, of makers, people who put things into the world that
they’ve crafted, themselves. His illness didn’t remove him from that tribe.
Why? Because writing, projecting his thought outwards, seems to have been as natural to him as

Here’s the thing: whether you’re a film reviewer, a painter, a poet, a
composer, a ceramicist, a filmmaker, or a painter of highway signs, these
things you’ve made last, after you’re dead. Ebert’s life is a testimony to the
importance, if you have such a talent, of exercising that privilege to the
greatest of your ability, regardless of adversity. This film has been called
many things: touching, moving, inspiring, saddening, fascinating, entertaining,
and heartbreaking, among others. And it is all of these things. Almost more
than these, though, it is sobering. At the time of this writing, this reviewer
is what many might call over-extended, numbering editorship of this
publication, co-editorship of a small press whose responsibilities grow by the
day, partial editorship of a literary magazine considered by many to be a
leader in its particular arena, not to mention daily deadlines as a freelance
editor and writer, and above and beyond those, continuing to write poems, among his daily preoccupations—and yet I would not give up
any one of these things for any other. And I would especially not give them up after watching
this film–if nothing else, the film shows that the rewards of doing, of striving, are far too great to forsake.

Max Winter is the Editor of Press Play.

“The First, The Last, My Everything” : Tilda Swinton Dancing to Barry White at EbertFest 2013

Tilda Swinton Dancing to Barry White at EbertFest 2013

Ladies and gentlemen, as far as I’m concerned, this was the emotional highlight of EbertFest 2013: Tilda Swinton, at the festival to represent her movie Julia, joined Roger Ebert’s widow Chaz onstage before a screening of Blancanieves to do a dance in honor of Roger. The song was Barry White’s “The First, The Last, My Everything.” Swinton led a conga line of moviegoers throughout the historic Virginia Theater. Awesomeness redefined. — Matt Zoller Seitz

Roger Ebert: End of Message

Roger Ebert: End of Message


Last weekend, the BBC published an article titled “How to write the perfect obituary” following the brouhaha around the New York Times’ recent obituary of Yvonne Brill. The Times piece had been deemed inappropriate and sexist for kicking off a rocket scientist’s post mortem with her apparently exemplary domesticity, including her “mean beef stroganoff,” and the BBC talked to a number of writers about the potential pitfalls of writing obituaries. It was a fluffy weekend piece, and I would have moved on were it not for one particular detail.

Among the writers interviewed was Harry de Quetteville, the Daily Telegraph’s obituaries editor. Apart from the Chicago Sun-Times, the Daily Telegraph, arguably London’s greatest daily, was Roger Ebert’s favorite newspaper, and he particularly relished their obituaries.  When I saw de Quetteville’s name, a momentary lapse in consciousness almost inspired me to compose a new e-mail to Roger. The subject would read “The BBC on how to write the perfect obituary; they’ve also talked to the Telegraph’s obit editor,” include a link, and end with “/eom.”

You see, “/eom,” i.e. “end of message,” was an abbreviation that Roger had particularly taken a shining to. He used to make a point of reading all of his emails, as well as the countless comments that his blog posts would elicit, so he had once emailed a large group of his correspondents urging them to submit links to him in a message’s subject line, and to finish it off with an “/eom” so that he would know the body text was empty. To the point. That’s the way he liked it. “Don’t beat around the bush.” Say what you’re going to say. Then “/eom” that baby”! His customary reply to link submissions was a concise “Tweeting! /eom”.

And tweet he did. He was against the very idea of Twitter at first, famously declaring “I will never be a twit” in a blog post dated March 28, 2009. Yet less than seven months later, he joined Twitter, the final one in a long list of media that he mastered over the course of a 42-year journalism career, by announcing proudly to the world: “This just in: I am a Twit.”

In hindsight, Twitter was the last hurrah of Roger Ebert’s illustrious life. His position as the chief film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, but, more importantly, his film review show with the late Gene Siskel, had already turned him into a household name. But on Twitter he gained a further following his sincere, whimsical, and witty musings on life, the universe, and everything. Many have commented on how his passions outside of the cinema, which he extensively chronicled on his personal blog starting in 2007, introduced a more personal insight, but his film reviews had always reflected so much of his interests, passions, and idiosyncrasies. He only publicly admitted to being an alcoholic in 2009, yet hints of his ailment had been scattered throughout his writing for decades. He didn’t have to acknowledge his agnosticism or his admiration for Darwin: it was evident in his reviews. He loved Shakespeare and was a life-long Anglophile, two further fascinations he frequently detailed in his criticism. But blogging helped clear up the bigger picture. He enjoyed waxing lyrical, without having to worry about pitches, deadlines, or word limits, and relished the interactivity.

In fact, interactivity had always played a huge part in his modus operandi, even before he took to Twitter or Facebook—even before the rest of the world really took to the Internet, in fact. He was an early adopter of e-mail, and had his own forum on CompuServe, which he embraced fully.  Right around the same time, his Video Companion was included in the Cinemania CD-ROM, which surely played a further part in introducing his writing to a younger audience. But even before the ascendancy of new media, Ebert always communicated with his fans. His weekly Movie Answerman and Film Glossary columns accepted submissions. He taught courses on film, and started his own film festival, the annual Ebertfest at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He simply loved to engage in conversation with the thousands who venerated him in whatever shape or form that tit-a-tat would take. He was a genuine renaissance man, and he adopted new challenges wholeheartedly.

As I wrote that final sentence in the previous paragraph, I got curious and checked to see how Roger rated 1994 Penny Marshall comedy, Renaissance Man. Not highly, it turns out, and after finishing off his pan, I followed the links provided within the review itself to Roger’s notices for Dead Poets Society, Private Benjamin, and, finally, Franco Zeffirelli’s Hamlet. This led to my getting lost down the rabbit hole of Roger’s reviews of other Shakespeare adaptations, and by the time I realised I had a piece to finish, an hour had gone by, I had read or re-read over fifty pieces, and was yearning for more. That was the great power Roger had over his readers: he made the reader curious and interested. He had a deliberate writing style, and, as Glenn Kenny observed, despised bullshit: he WAS a schoolboy AND he knew what he liked. He was a man of ideas, some of them very complicated, but he always managed to get them across simply, and without condescension. His prose was simple yet true, and in a profession that more and more frequently values the convoluted and fake, it had its fair amount of detractors. They were wrong, of course, and Roger’s continuous popularity was a testament to his endurance.

Roger was also a friend. But as time passes, and as people ask me, friends as well as the press, about the sort of friendship and relationship I had with him, I find myself hesitant to answer the question. Roger was a very private person about subjects he wanted to keep that way, but, generally speaking, he was very open. He was a friend to all who came knocking. I exchanged daily emails with him, wrote for his website, attended his film festival, visited his house. He made me feel welcome, but this had nothing to do with the length or depth of our acquaintance or the fact that I was one of his Far-Flung Correspondents. He was just a welcoming sort of guy, which is what I always tried to communicate to people who asked me for his email address. “You don’t need my introduction,” I’d tell fellow writers. “If anything, he probably knows your work already.” 

It’s been five days since the world found out about Roger Ebert’s death. Writers have been competing in the eloquence of their tributes, and even though I am not one to judge the particular way a person mourns, I have found certain aspects of this deluge rather off-putting.  I simply think it an incongruent way to mourn the death and celebrate the life of a man who despised cant and abhorred schmaltz (though he enjoyed having fawning admirers). Just look at his obituary of Studs Terkel, his hero: “He was the most widely and deeply loved man I ever hope to know.” Roger knew the meaning of the phrase “too much of a good thing.” He was a measured man, who kept things simple. He loved the movies, he loved his wife, he loved his family, and he loved his friends. He was a kind and generous soul, who lived a full and happy life. He will be missed. Every day. /eom

Ali Arikan is the chief film critic of Dipnot TV,
a Turkish news portal and iPad magazine, and one of Roger Ebert’s
Far-Flung Correspondents. Ali is also a regular contributor to
The House Next Door, Slant Magazine’s official blog. Occasionally, he updates his personal blog Cerebral Mastication.
In addition, his writing appears on various film and pop-culture sites
on the blogosphere. He also believes in the transformative potential of Twitter.

A Far-Flung Memory of Roger

A Far-Flung Memory of Roger


Back when I was a kid, every now and then my Dad would go on a business trip abroad. This was a huge deal back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, since every item coming from the world stretching to the West of my native Poland was seen by our eyes to possess near-magical qualities. The richness of color was matched by a gaudiness of design simply unseen in Eastern Europe. The few candy bars and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T-shirts I got from my Dad could have just as well been imported from Oz itself.

One of the last gifts I got from him as a teenager was a CD-ROM called “Cinemania ‘97”, a vast data base of reviews that combined the outputs of Leonard Maltin, Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert in order to create a new kind of interactive movie guide—one that would later be supplanted by internet browsers and IMdB. My Dad knew of my passion for movies (I dragged him out to see them often enough to make him abhor Disney flicks for life). I started devouring the contents of the disc right away: cross-referencing like mad, looking up films that ran on Polish TV the given week, soaking up facts and, last but not least, learning English in the process. Some of the words were so beautiful as mere sounds that I almost regret ever learning their meanings. Peerless, taut, and stellar were only some of them; the old and greasy-looking English-Polish dictionary my folks owned was never far away when I used “Cinemania”.

Of the entries included on the disc, the ones by Roger were the longest and most detailed. Maltin wrote capsules and Kael’s pieces were the edited-down versions of her New Yorker reviews, originally contained in 5001 Nights at the Movies. Roger’s prose was instantly accessible and inviting. He seemed uninterested in infallibility (something Kael would thrive on, clearly having enjoyed publishing what she saw as the final word on her subjects). He came off as a super-knowledgeable guy who happened to want to simply talk movies with you. He would never judge you for botching a phrase in English, I thought to myself—only for being untrue to your gut feeling. I took immediate comfort in that, which later allowed me to make my own tentative attempts at writing criticism in English.

All this was happening as I was undergoing puberty and reaching the predictable geek peak of my life. As we turn into adults and our bodies stop making sense to us (and start offering scary pains and pleasures), it’s common to burrow into the world of one’s passion, with its safety from judgment and limitless stretches of impractical knowledge waiting to be explored. For the awkward, sports-adverse teenage me, that shelter was the movies. Without even knowing it, Roger convinced me it was possible to talk about movies in a way both learned and relaxed—and that was years before I could even see clips of his famous TV show, which never ran in Poland.
I remember having caught The Exorcist on late-night TV soon after I got “Cinemania.” I was still a devout Catholic then—as well as a closeted gay kid living in a country where even sex education classes didn’t go much further than discussing the first (strictly straight) base. I was traumatized by the Friedkin movie, and the scene of Linda Blair masturbating with a crucifix sent me into a state of deep shock (there was no Richard Pryor around to dispel the horror with his famed Black Exorcist skit: “Wash your ass, girl! And get that cross outta yo’ pussy!”). Reading Roger’s review that same night, and finding out that he considered it a great movie, was even a greater shock to me. At the same time, that very review provided one of the first, much-needed cracks in my insular religious upbringing: learning that a movie with that much blasphemy could actually be good was a revelation, a hint at a different way of thinking about the world than was prevalent in the environment I grew up in.

Years later, thanks to a recommendation from my mentor and friend, Kevin B. Lee, I became one of Roger’s Far-Flung Correspondents. The depth of the honor is almost too obvious to be discussed here, and it was only enhanced by the fact that I could also work with Jim Emerson, Roger’s closest collaborator and, yes, the editor of “Cinemania ‘97.” I still remember the day I filed my first piece, on Jerzy Skolimowski’s Deep End, shaking and expecting rejection. Instead, I got the warmest and most encouraging email of my life – and in a matter of minutes, since Roger always responded instantaneously.

As an editor, Roger was endlessly encouraging and just about limitless in his hospitality. As FFCs, me and my great colleagues enjoyed tremendous freedom in choosing subjects and deciding on the best ways to approach them. Be it an ultra-rare Pola Negri silent or the guilty pleasure of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” Roger was game—he trusted us that much.

It was that comfort and safety that made me not even think twice, when—upon writing a piece on my childhood fascination with Dynasty for Roger—I suddenly realized that I just wrote a sentence in which I referred to myself as a gay man. I never did that before: lots of my friends knew about me already, but I never once mentioned the fact in print or on-line. I remember staring at the screen for a second, and thinking: “It’s OK, this one’s for Roger.”

Roger’s writing suggested a great wit inhabiting a generous soul—he could be rough, but he was never mean. When he vented frustration with a movie, it wasn’t in order to be hurtful. He could famously hate (and  hate, and hate, and hate) a movie, but he would never take a film down just for the pleasure of crafting a retweetable pan.

My one and only time when I spoke with Roger came at EbertFest 2012. He wrote in his pad: “I care deeply for your writing, Michael,” to which I replied: “I learned English from reading your stuff!” His answer was pure Roger: “No wonder you use it so well, then.” I will never forget that moment.

Michał Oleszczyk is a film critic and scholar based in
Kraków, Poland. He wrote the first Polish book on Terence Davies and translated
J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum’s “Midnight Movies” into Polish. He contributes
to, “Fandor”, “Slant Magazine”, “Hammer to Nail” and many Polish
outlets. He has been named the Critic of the Year 2012 by the Polish Film

Remembering Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

Remembering Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

nullIt was the same ritual every year. It was usually late October, maybe early November. You’d go to the mall where there was a bookstore, usually a Walden Books. (This was before Borders and Barnes & Noble were in every shopping center.) The section devoted to “Film” was one shelf, not a wall. You’d scan the shelf to see where it was. Then, you’d come across its brightly colored thick spine and pull it from the shelf. You’d flip through it excitedly, not being able to wait to get home and devour every page.

I’m talking about the annual ritual of picking up Roger Ebert’s Movie Home Companion. The first one I ever got was in 1991. It had red and yellow lettering, with Ebert on the cover, doing a thumbs-up pose. I was 12 going on 13 and was already a devotee of Siskel & Ebert. I wasn’t aware Ebert collected his print reviews in book form. When I found out I couldn’t wait to get home and read it cover to cover. And I did. I remember there were lengthy pieces on Marlon Brando (in connection with the summer 1990 release of The Freshman) and escalating movie violence. There was Ebert’s essay on why Goodfellas was the best film of 1990. Considering that that was the movie that made me start to develop my critical voice and want to write about movies, I read that essay with particularly great awareness of its reasoning and phrasing. Mostly, though, I read the book for its reviews. I read ‘em all. I started to make note of certain positive reviews of movies I hadn’t seen and would seek them out at the video store or when I would read the Sunday paper’s weekly TV listings. That’s how I discovered movies like James B. Harris’ Cop and Blue Collar and My Dinner with Andre and Four Friends and Looking for Mr. Goodbar. I would watch the movie and then go back and read Ebert’s review to see if his reaction mirrored my own. Sometimes it did. Sometimes it didn’t. (He liked Cop but I loved it. He loved Fellini’s Satyricon, but you couldn’t pay me to see it again.)

nullAnd the ritual continued every year, around my birthday. Along with Leonard Maltin’s Home Video Guide, the Movie Home Companion kept me occupied when I should’ve been studying or doing my homework. Being severely visually impaired, I shouldn’t have been reading for long stretches at a time, but I did. (I remember when I discovered the Talking Book Program for the Blind had Ebert’s A Kiss is Still a Kiss on tape. I must’ve listened to it dozens of times, especially his interviews with Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin, William Hurt, Nastassja Kinski, and Robert Mitchum, and his level-headed defense of Bob Woodward’s Wired.) Ebert’s introductions to each subsequent edition were like yearly dispatches from an old friend. He would end each intro with a list of recommended readings including Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, James Agee, Otis Ferguson, Stanley Kaufmann and other esteemed critics. He wasn’t insecure about having people leave him to discover other voices. He encouraged it. I devoured Kael and Sarris and Molly Haskell. I also read some John Simon. (I’m still debating if that was a good idea.) Eventually, I started seeking out different critical voices on my own. I got subscriptions to both Film Comment and Entertainment Weekly. Ebert taught me not to discriminate, so I appreciated the scholarly tone of Kent Jones and the punchy yet elegant phrasing of USA Today’s Mike Clark and EW’s Owen Gleiberman.

I started to write reviews myself. Like most things you attempt, you start by copying. I eventually developed my own voice that has a penchant for utilizing illuminating alliterations and parentheticals. (I love me some parentheticals.) I don’t write like Ebert. He was a newspaper man through and through and I, sadly, had to come of age during the Dead Trees era. Then again, Ebert didn’t really bother with those kinds of distinctions. He mourned the demise of newspapers, but he also embraced social media early on, as a way to continue writing about movies or, more accurately, he just loved finding ways to continue writing.

Ebert was a writer, a newspaper man, before he was a critic. His voice as a writer is what will be remembered. To dismiss Ebert’s contribution to film criticism because of his participation in the Siskel & Ebert program requires you to ignore the fact that the vast majority of Ebert’s criticism is in print. The show brought a generation (including myself) to the writing, and the writing inspired us to find our voice. (Blaming the TV show for the commercialization of film criticism is akin to hating Jaws and Star Wars because you dread all the copycats that were inevitably going to follow. Denying pleasure is the one thing a critic should never do.) It was hard to watch Ebert struggle with his deteriorating health over the years. It seemed especially cruel when he lost the ability to speak, but he rose to the challenge. His writing toughened over these last few years. He seemed to be less forgiving of movies that only did the bare minimum of what their genre required. (Ebert had been accused of being to forgiving of disposable entertainments. He wasn’t. He just started to demand more.) He used his blog to write about politics, Chicago history, his personal life, and movies. It always came back to writing about movies because they allowed him to write about everything else. Ebert lost his ability to speak, but he never lost his voice. Roger Ebert. One voice for all to hear. 

San Antonio-based film critic Aaron Aradillas is a contributor to The House Next Door, a contributor to Moving Image Source, and the host of Back at Midnight,” an Internet radio program about film and television.

VIDEO ESSAY: Siskel and Ebert: Screen Fighting Men

VIDEO ESSAY: Siskel and Ebert: Screen Fighting Men

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were journalists, film reviewers, TV personalities and friends. They disliked each other and loved each other. They needled each other on the air and put on a great show, but it was always in the service of film criticism and education, a means of exciting viewers and drawing them in. Their decades long partnership produced some of the finest televised film criticism of our era; their contentious relationship inspired all of America to think more deeply about lovely images that pass before us, the characters that populate our culture, and the cinematic artists that define our lives. 

This video essay doesn’t attempt to evaluate their important critical legacies. It zeros in on the magic itself, that remarkable chemistry that kept America watching for decades — a relationship copied but never equaled, serious but irreverent, respectable but never respectful. 

They worked together until Gene Siskel’s untimely death in 1999. The title sums up their unique place in American culture and their lasting legacy of inspiration: “Siskel and Ebert: Screen Fighting Men.” 

DEEP FOCUS: Mike Figgis’ STORMY MONDAY, as reviewed by Roger Ebert

DEEP FOCUS: Mike Figgis’ STORMY MONDAY, as reviewed by Roger Ebert

By Kim Morgan and Matt Zoller Seitz
PressPlay contributors

This video essay is not just about a certain film, but a certain review of a certain film: Roger Ebert’s appreciation of Stormy Monday, the 1988 debut feature by writer-director-musician Mike Figgis. It’s a modern noir, or neo-noir, set in Newcastle, about a couple of hardboiled innocents (Sean Bean and Melanie Griffith) who get caught up in the power struggle between a nightclub owner (Sting) and the Texas real estate tycoon (Tommy Lee Jones) who wants to run him out of business so that he can buy his property and complete a waterfront development deal.

But as Ebert points out in his review, that type of summary doesn’t really capture what Stormy Monday is about. In sound-and-image-driven, genuinely cinematic films — a category to which Figgis’ modest but stylish debut definitely belongs — what happens is less important than how it happens: the look and feel and flow of the images, the little details of voice and gesture that you notice in scenes where characters are flirting or hatching plans or making threats.

I was 19 when I first read Ebert’s Stormy Monday review. It made a huge impression on me because it was one of the first pieces of mainstream newspaper criticism I’d read in which form followed function. The review quickly dispenses with the standard, literary-oriented focus of newspaper reviewing and becomes a list of elements, images and sensations: the glistening of rain on pavement stones, the glow of a neon sign in a doorway, the distinctive timbres of actors’ voices. If Ebert’s review is less a parsing of Figgis’ film than a tribute to it, then I guess this video essay is a tribute to Ebert’s tribute, and maybe an attempt to circle Ebert’s written appreciation back around to the movie itself, and the elements that inspired Ebert in the first place.

My friend Kim Morgan, who has contributed to Ebert’s new TV series At the Movies and has collaborated with me on a video essay about Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place, provides the voiceover, reading Ebert’s review in laid-back, smoky tones. The music is from the Stormy Monday soundtrack, composed and performed by Figgis.

Roger Ebert is the Chicago-Sun Times film critic and the creator of Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies. Kim Morgan is a film, music and culture writer who authors Sunset Gun and her tumblr blog Sunset Gunshots. Matt Zoller Seitz is the founder and publisher of Press Play.