By now, you’ve no doubt heard that the great Roger Ebert has passed away after years and years of battling cancer and other health problems. It’s all very sad, always sad to lose a great movie critic and a great writer, both of which describe him. And he was always looking forward and embracing the new age of digital media, even as recently as yesterday, in which he mapped out plans for a bigger and better Web site.
As I’m reading all of the Tweets and Facebook postings, many of them tell stories of how they met Ebert, what a great inspiration he was to them, how he encouraged them in their writing career, whether they were a movie critic or some other type of writer.
But I’m not one of those telling stories of cool Ebert encounters, and you know why? It’s because I was always afraid to email him and make contact. It was always a dream of mine, but what would I say? He probably got all kinds of emails from people all the time. Why would he pay attention to mine?
No, I told myself that I’d get a little more established first, and then maybe I’d build up the courage to email him. Well, we all know how that went. Now he’s gone, and along with him, my chance to cyber-meet a man who probably influenced my career as an entertainment writer and movie critic more than even I realize. And from everything I’ve read today, I’m guessing he would have emailed me back.
As a kid growing up in the 1970s, I loved watching “Sneak Previews,” loved watching Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel battle it out. I’ve always loved movies, but there was something fascinating and raw about watching these two guys, both so passionate about movies and the film industry, make their case. Did they ever sway the other to their view on a particular movie? I’m not sure about that, but that’s what made the show so much fun to watch.
“Sneak Previews,” along with other shows that followed, like “At the Movies,” Siskel and Ebert,” and the recent “Ebert Presents: At the Movies,” brought the debate about what makes a good movie to people out here in the real world. It brought it to people like me, who grew up and still live in flyover country (well, if you count Michigan as a state you’d fly over to get from one coast to the other). Come to think of it, Chicago is technically a flyover state, too.
Roger Ebert made me realize that I could be an entertainment writer without living in New York or Los Angeles. He made me see that if you were passionate about movies and had the ability to write great reviews in your own voice, then maybe you could make it as an entertainment writer, no matter where you lived. I may never have the writing finesse of Ebert — he was a really, really great writer — but I can’t see my passion for movies ever fading away, and I’ll figure the rest out as I go along.
Anyway, I really wish I’d sent that email and told him what a big influence he’s had on my life, even though I’d never met him in person.
So here’s my advice to you: If you’ve got someone in your life like that, don’t wait until “the time is right” or you’re “good enough.” Email that person today. It could change your life in ways you can’t imagine.
Here are Siskel and Ebert debating whether “The Graduate” holds up over time.