Hearing the news of Roger Ebert’s death this afternoon sank my heart. Following what would be his final blog post, his “leave of presence” teased a short departure from the world of film criticism upon fighting a recurring bout with cancer. The suddenness of his death has undoubtedly spurred the amazing outpour of congeniality toward the critic. As a would-be critic, I’ve held Ebert to the highest regard. His sharp wit and humane perspective made him one of the most agreeable and accessible of writers. The sheer volume of his online and published work made him one of the most valuable of resources to cinephiles. Like most who were first introduced to him, his television presence was offered something radically different from anything available on television now. The sheer prospect of having two men, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, sit for a half-hour once a week to banter on cinema remains one of the true paradoxes in American television. But the invaluable nature of their work and rich history has essentially seeped its way into the cultural fabric. “Two thumbs up” may seem dismissive to those seeking in-depth film criticism, but as Ebert argued, it instilled an awareness amongst filmgoers.
But what resonates most about Ebert’s departure stems from his Chicago significance. As someone who is so vested in film criticism and the city of Chicago, Ebert’s death is of immeasurable significance. The Chicago film community as a whole would not be what it is without the contributions brought forth by Roger Ebert. In an era of aggregate film criticism where positive and negative reviews are treated as numerical constants, Ebert’s radiant personality evoked something greater in the world of film criticism. The era in film criticism marked by personal perspective has shifted to general percentile designation – Ebert’s contributions as a writer and television personality instilled a sense of importance in the art of film criticism.