Dear Mr. Ebert,
I remember the first time I purchased one of your books. It was in my junior year of high school, as I was looking through Great Movies. I began reading every one of your reviews of the films I’d seen; I sat there for hours, entranced by how lovely the films were and all the emotions that came back to me. I marked up the films I needed to see, wrote down what I thought I should notice, and began again.
I’m at a loss for words right now. I’m not like that. I always have something to say about someone, something, some film, some event…and I can’t put together a coherent thought right now. You are the only film critic I loyally followed, the only one I would visit every single week in hopes of seeing your take on a film I loved, hated, or simply needed to form an opinion on. You helped me with that, not only with understanding film, but where admiration could arise.
You’ve introduced me to a level of film I never anticipated. I always remember my experience of watching The Godfather over a break one year, and that changed my perception of film. I saw the art in it, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. You guided me through that with your marvelous write-up on the film, and your analysis of just about everything I loved but didn’t quite understand.
I’m not trying to idolize you, although I suppose we all do that. People say we often remember others as greater than they actually were; seeing the events unfold now, and realizing the toll that cancer has taken on you, is something I can’t shake. Cancer is the most personal killer to me, for it took down by my grandfather and will take down more people in my life. It’s a horrid thing that changed your career with reviewing films on At the Movies, but only reminded us of the power you have with words.
Your blog entries were wonderful. Your understanding of film was insane. You wrote with a style that is so intimate and personal that we often forget it’s such a strong piece of criticism. You received a lot of hate over the years for various reviews, for taking down certain celebrities and their terrible films. I don’t blame you. You were almost always one to stand by your opinions (like Kick-Ass, which I disagree with, and Salt was one you backed off of fairly quickly), and you never felt as if you were writing an essay. Many film critics do that, but you were a conversationalist at heart.
Anyone who knows me, or has conversed with me on film, knows that I reference you to a fault. We all ultimately fall into a trap of choosing a film critic we so often side with, understand their opinions so fully, and almost begin to form our opinions vicariously through them. I’ve disagreed with you on many occasions, but not once have I failed to understand where you come from. You’re one of the most eloquent writers that has not only graced film criticism, but journalism in general.
Your memoir, Life Itself, epitomizes your talent. You had a knack for creating such personal landscapes that so distinctly applied to you but became universally understood. Your descriptions of childhood and your upbringing, the way you came about film criticism, and the way your love for film grew is something I couldn’t help but feel moved by.
I knew this day was coming. I’ve been telling my friends for years that it was only a matter of time before you were gone, and how that would be a sad day full of gloom. Yet you held on for so long, fought for so damn much, and you wanted to continue not only the legacy you created, but the one you knew people loved. You are the most beloved film critic in the country, and much like Gene Siskel before you, your death will impact more people than you presumably ever anticipated.
I am sad today. I’ve been missing your reviews over the last few months, fundamentally part of my own film criticism because of their universal appeal, and I think your writing will be the basis for not only studying criticism in general, but film as a whole. Your impact is undeniably widespread.
I was briefly discussing a review on your site seconds before I found out about your passing. I was stunned, but also remarkably moved by how pervasive you were in film culture. Directors feared and referenced you, stars often idolized you, and you were the only film critic I can think of to appear on late-night talk shows as if you were your own distinct personality.
You were a smart, strong, kind man. I can’t think of a person who is more fitting of earning a Pulitzer’s Prize for film criticism than yourself. You spoke your opinions eloquently and without fault, and you earned your share of detractors.
My style of criticism is heavily based on yours. I won’t deny it. It’s debatable on whether you were the single person that helped me decide to be a film critic (on the side, at least). My switch to video reviews, although helpful in time, was predominantly based in your ability to articulate your opinion in a matter of minutes on camera. I hoped to at least try to match that, or do it justice.
“I was born inside the movie of my life,” the first line of your memoir reads. You lived, breathed, and personified movies.
Your final blog post said it perfectly:
So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.