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“The Balcony is Closed”: Remembering Roger Ebert

Some of the Alamo programmers pay tribute to the greatest, most influential film critic of all time.

“The Balcony is Closed”: Remembering Roger Ebert

Yesterday, the universal film loving community lost a hero. That may sound hyperbolic, but it’s not. It’s simply the truth.

Over his career Roger Ebert became the most celebrated and influential film critic the profession ever had. He worked diligently, wrote efficiently and helped many people around the world appreciate the medium of film.

Roger Ebert had a profound effect on the programmers at the Alamo. Here’s what he meant to us in our own words:

Greg MacLennan

Roger Ebert was the man. In his later years he became more than a man, he became a cult hero for constantly providing intelligent insight and challenging reviews while battling his failing health.

I always loved Roger Ebert, but it wasn't until I started to read his very personal blog that I began to feel a real affectation for the man.  I didn't always agree with him, but I was never bored by his eloquent and passionate feelings on films. He helped me watch a movie with its intended audience in mind and developed my brain to enjoy films on a whole new level. I staunchly defend films that aren't deemed 'good' movies by most, solely because I feel passionately about them.

Ebert's knowledge was vast and intimidating, but he was never pretentious or condescending. He watched movies for all the right reasons in all the right ways. In a world of film snobs, Roger Ebert was one of us...he was a movie fan. And now with his story complete, I think we can all agree this man deserves two gigantic thumbs way up. Thanks for all the hard work Roger, you inspired us, challenged us and left us all in a better place for being here.

Tommy Swenson

Watching movies has the potential to be very lonely. It's a fleeting experience, gone too quick and hard to hold onto. It's a challenge sometimes even to understand what you've seen, how it affected you, and what it meant to you. Unless you talk about it, it's likely to fade in your memory like a dream. Roger Ebert taught me how to talk about movies.

Ebert was the first critic whose writing I ever sought out. I used to record episodes of Siskel & Ebert off TV and rewatch them repeatedly. None of my friends knew anything about movies so if I wanted to learn how to think about them and how to talk about them, I thought I'd look to the professionals. What I learned from Ebert in print and on TV was that there is no right way to talk about movies. All that matters is your enthusiasm, your passion, and the connections with other people that can spring out of that passion.

Reading Ebert is not like reading Andrew Sarris or Pauline Kael. He isn't an intellectual explorer like they are. Ebert's writing has a conversational clarity coupled with an unpretentious grasp of film history and technique. He welcomes you, trusts you with your own opinions and reminds you that mere opinions are all that anyone has. Sometimes his opinions were blisteringly strong and his writing would definitely improve in proportion to the intensity of his reaction, positive or negative.

But he was also impossibly prolific and insanely inspiring in his superhuman dedication to just producing writing, week in and week out. After he lost his ability to speak in 2006 his writing, especially on his personal blog, become very intimate and reflective. I've read just enough of it to realize that he was doing some of his best and most meaningful writing in the final years of his life and I greatly look forward to going back and discovering all he's left behind.

His writing is not what I remember best about Roger Ebert though. It's him enthusiastically arguing about movies with his best friend on national television. He showed me that movies are what we make of them, in discussion, in celebration and in unadulterated hate. Opinions on movies don't really count for much. It's the human connections we build around them that matter; the shared experience of bitter argument and mutual delight. Thank you Roger Ebert, my first great movie friend.

R.J. LaForce

Roger Ebert was the first film critic I read and I have to say that was both a blessing and a curse. The first because his writing was so intelligent, full of life, yet completely straightforward, and the second because I soon learned that was a rarity in film criticism.

But  the best thing about reading his reviews was that you knew this guy loved movies. He absolutely loved them. And he wasn’t afraid to let that shine through.

I specifically remember his review of MONSTER in 2003, which he named his best film of that year. His review was a mix of unbridled joy from loving, and being effective by, the movie so much and the point-by-point, coherent breakdown of why he loved it so much. For me MONSTER is nothing special, but I fully understood why he loved it. Reading his reviews was like talking to a close friend in a coffee shop.

Unlike most critics who come off as trying to sound smart and above the reader, Ebert simplified his argument so it could be understood by the most people. And, as always, he did it without condescension and ego.

His reviews changed the way I watched, thought and talked about movies. From the age of 13, he directed my moviegoing habits not because I was going to see everything he liked, but because through his reviews he made me understand my own taste in movies.

I really could go on and on about his writing, but if you want to understand what I’m talking about go out and read his work. There’s a reason he won a Pulitzer Prize for writing about movies. Just take his famouse quote: “No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.” His writing was poetic, direct and just so damn logical. Few people master their craft. He perfected his.

Finding out the news of his death yesterday was like losing a friend. He made me proud to be a movie nut and that pride has guided me my whole professional life.

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