The First Troper.Roger Joseph Ebert
(June 18, 1942 – April 4, 2013) was the film
reviewer-in-chief at the Chicago Sun-Times
from 1967 until his death in 2013
. In itself, that would make him important as the elder statesman of film criticism.
In 1975, Ebert teamed up with Gene Siskel
, reviewer-in-chief at the Chicago Tribune
, to present a film review program called Sneak Previews
, the great-grandfather of the Video Review Show
, on the local PBS
station. The program went to national syndication in 1978; in 1982 Siskel & Ebert
moved to Syndication
on commercial stations across America, as a new but very similar program called At The Movies with Siskel and Ebert
(or vice versa). Unexpectedly, this made him one of the two most important movie critics in America. Because the show was televised, many more Americans saw it
than read the reviews in the newspapers; because Ebert and Siskel had credentials in real newspapers in a major city first, and didn't review every movie favorably, they could be taken more seriously than most other movie reviewers on television. Siskel and Ebert's passive-aggressive chemistry
was the stuff of legend. It was often thought that due to their occasionally hostile on-screen presence when they disagreed, that the two hated each other. However, each considered the other a close friend
, even if their relationship was competitive by nature. In fact, in 2009 on the tenth anniversary of Siskel's death, Ebert posted a touching remembrance
of his friend on his blog.
When Siskel died in 1999
, Ebert kept on the show with guest hosts until it was settled that it would be At the Movies with Ebert and Roeper
, with Richard Roeper, another Chicago Sun-Times
critic. This made him the most important living movie critic in America. The show ended in 2008 partially because his throat cancer was preventing him from doing most of the episodes for over a year and a half. (To do film reviews on television, you have to be able to speak.) Sadly, due to a few surgeries that successfully eradicated his cancer, Ebert lost the ability to speak entirely
and part of his lower jaw was removed. During the last few years of his life, he 'spoke' through handwritten notes and a computer speech program. In 2010, a Scottish company created a voice similar to Ebert's own for him to use as his new 'voice', using his DVD commentaries (and not his TV show, since there was always background movie noise and Gene Siskel/Richard Roeper interrupting him) and other similar recordings. Furthermore, his last 'treatments' were such tough going with so much physical cost, he vowed that if the cancer reemerged, he would let it take its course; this eventually transpired in 2013
In 2011, to replace the new At the Movies
which had been canceled by its distributor, Ebert and his wife Chaz started their own movie review show on PBS
called Ebert Presents At The Movies
hosted by Christy Lemire of the Associated Press and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of Mubi, which follows largely the same format as Ebert's other shows. Ebert himself appeared in a segment on the show called "Roger's Office" which features voice over narration (either with the help of either his new 'voice', or a famous friend such as Werner Herzog
or Bill Kurtis) of one of his recent reviews or musings.
Until his death, Ebert still wrote weekly review columns as well as a daily blog and maintained a very active Twitter account, and every single one of his reviews are available on the Internet, where he was still an influential force in movie criticism's new dominant medium. He also picked up a reputation for being (depending on whom you ask) soft on moviesnote
or even more ruthless than before
. However, his wrath, when deployed, was legendary
. He published three compilations of two-star-and-under reviews during his lifetime; I Hated, Hated, HATED This Movie!
(reviews published in 1999 and earlier), Your Movie Sucks
(reviews published from 2000–06) and A Horrible Experience of Unbearable Length
(reviews published from 2006–11).
Roger Ebert printed annual compilations of his movie reviews from The Eighties
onward. Also Ebert wrote three books of essays about his favorite movies entitled The Great Movies
, with these essays also available on his website in a condensed form.
He also wrote Ebert's Little Movie Glossary
and Ebert's Bigger Little Movie Glossary
, which are books of Film Tropes
in The Devil's Dictionary
form. (An even bigger movie glossary is on his web page.) They could be considered a proto-TV Tropes
in a sense (and the Trope Namer
He also maintained a column called "The Movie Answer-Man", where he addressed various topics given to him by reader comments. Sometimes addressing fandom aspects like...
He also wrote many books on great films. He was one of the great proponents of film preservation, letterboxing (back when most televisions were square and most movies in theaters weren't), and giving credit to directors and screenwriters; he probably helped make these issues important. Also a proponent of seeing films in
theaters, but he accepted modern viewing habits enough to write DVD
reviews. He did a few audio commentaries
notably ones for two of his all-time favorite films, Citizen Kane
and Dark City
, which have appeared on most releases of those films on DVD.
He was one of the major opponents to Colorization. He often liked Deliberately Monochrome
films, and ones that were monochrome because of when they were made, because of the light and shadow effects. He also protested censorship in the name of Avoid the Dreaded G Rating
or avoiding the dreaded X/NC-17 rating. While he advocated for years for a properly tradmarked A
rating to replace X since that sound more respectable, he had hoped NC-17 would become a respectable alternative, and was disappointed when it didn't. He was critical of what he saw as an overuse of 3D technology in recent movies.
He was screenwriter for a Cult Classic
film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
. Since that film was released in 1970, this hasn't affected his stature as a critic much. He made fun of it himself, but said he was proud of it regardless.
He gained a bit of flak from the gamer community when he declared video games not to be an art form
, but he eventually came around
and at least decided he's not in a position to judge them (although, despite popular opinion to the contrary, he has been known to play them). Despite that episode, he was considered as the most One of Us
of major critics, as he admired Japanese animated film
and had an incredible knowledge of science fiction — however, generally, not superhero movies, which was among his favorite genres. While he claimed ignorance to a lot of TV shows due to his heavy schedule of writing and watching films, he found time to become a fan of the WWE, South Park
, and Avatar The Last Airbender
. (During their 1979 review of Star Trek The Motion Picture
, Gene suggested that he might not have cared about the characters since he wasn't a fan of the show. Roger said that he WAS a fan and he didn't care about them as presented in this film). Heck, he even gave The Nostalgia Critic
his due after seeing his tribute video to Siskel and him via a Twitter message (Nostalgia Critic creator Doug Walker
was so thrilled, he printed and framed it). Ebert also had a fondness of other film analysis and criticism, such as Tim Dirk's Filmsite.org (which Ebert frequently quoted) and Red Letter Media
; of the Revenge of the Sith
review, Ebert stated, "I was pretty much sure I didn't have it with me to endure another review of [Revenge of the Sith
]. Mr. Plinkett demonstrates to me that I was mistaken." This is especially interesting considering that said review criticized critics, specifically naming Ebert, who gave a free pass to George Lucas
based on prior successes and not his recent output of work.
Was also a master at uncovering the Freeze-Frame Bonus
— for years, he would spend a week at the University of Colorado's World Affairs Conference dissecting a film frame-by-frame with an audience's help to reveal small details.
Now we have his great movies list
and his list of his least favorite movies
Incidentally, Ebert's Glossary of Movie Terms
described several tropes decades before TV Tropes even came into existence.
The website of his 2011 show can be found here
and there's an archive of the old Siskel & Ebert
. His own life was brought to the screen in the 2014 documentary Life Itself
Ebert's final public statement, in a blog post titled "A leave of presence"
, was: "I'll see you at the movies." One artist's post-mortem interpretation of Ebert's last missive sums it up
. Thumbs up.
Tropes used by the man:
- 3-D Movie: Ebert was a vocal detractor, complaining often that filmmakers used them simply as a gimmick to throw things at the audience, and especially complaining when the technology led to a darker and dirtier picture. He advocated for 60fps, which he saw as a clearer and more vivid medium, and was disappointed that it never caught on. He gave fair shakes to Avatar, however.
- 8.8: One of only two critics to like Speed 2: Cruise Control (the other being Gene Siskel) on Rotten Tomatoes and the only one not to like Brazil. Additionally, he gave The Godfather, Part II three stars, his lowest "good movie" rating, but later included it on his list of Great Movies, though while still standing by his original rating.
- Animation Age Ghetto: Provides the page quotation, and highly disliked it.
- Author Appeal: Asked in an interview why a respected, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic would choose to be a scriptwriter for a sexplotation director like Russ Meyer, one of Ebert's friends considered for a moment and replied, "Boobs."
- Berserk Button: Filmmakers actually invoking Not Screened for Critics as a defense of their work was a sore point for Ebert. Ebert's responses to Kevin Smith and Rob Schneider are two classic examples of this.
- Broke the Rating Scale:
- Ebert occasionally gave out zero-star ratings. These differed from his occasional "no-star rating" ratings in that to earn zero stars, a movie had to offend his moral sensibilities in some way. This is why The Human Centipede II got zero stars (as opposed to the first movie, which got no rating) and why the original version of Death Race got zero stars vs. the remake's half-star even though Ebert admitted that he felt the former was more competently made.
- He sometimes didn't give a rating at all.
Note: I am not giving a star rating to Pink Flamingos
, because stars simply seem not to apply. It should be considered not as a film but as a fact, or perhaps as an object.
I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it. The star rating system is unsuited to this film. Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don't shine
- Catch Phrase/Famous Last Words: "See you at the movies." Also his sign-off words for his last essay.
- Deadpan Snarker: His sarcasm could be particularly sharp.
- Deaf Composer: After thyroid cancer deprived him of the ability to eat solid foods, he took up cooking as a hobby.
"To be sure, health problems have prevented me from eating. That did not discourage my cooking. It became an exercise more pure, freed of biological compulsion."
- Face Death with Dignity: He wrote several blogs about how he didn't fear letting his cancer take its course if it reappeared, because "what was there to fear?"
- Go Out with a Smile: His wife Chaz described his passing as very quiet and simple, with him just looking at her and the kids and smiling.
- Insult to Rocks:
"This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels."
- And A Lot Like Love: "To call A Lot Like Love dead in the water is an insult to water."
- And The Spirit: "To call the characters cardboard is to insult a useful packing material."
- And, of course, The Village: "Eventually the secret of Those, etc., is revealed. To call it an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes."
- Of Battle: Los Angeles, he said: "Here's a science-fiction film that's an insult to the words 'science' and 'fiction,' and the hyphen in between them."
- His G.I. Joe: Retaliation review reads: "To say G.I. Joe: Retaliation is a video game for the big screen is to insult a number of video games that are far more creative, challenging and better-looking." Mr. Ebert never was a fan of video games, either.
- Just Here for Godzilla: Ebert once confessed that when he was a boy in The Fifties, he and his friends would go to see women's wrestling matches at carnivals in the hope that there would be a Wardrobe Malfunction.
- Let's See You Do Better:
- The best known example of Ebert's law that actually involves Ebert himself comes from a review of Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo. Star Rob Schneider took offense to an article by Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times, pointing out that several major studios turned down the chance to finance the year's Best Picture nominees while financing a sequel to a crude sex comedy. After reading it, he took out a full-page ad in the Hollywood Reporter and called Goldstein a "hack" because he had never won a Pulitzer Prize. In Ebert's review of the film, he taunted Schneider and said that he himself actually did win the Pulitzer, and thus by Schnider's criteria he was fully qualified to tell Schneider that "your movie sucks". The story took an unexpected turn after several back-and-forth barbs in the press. After one of Ebert's cancer surgeries, Schneider sent Ebert flowers. Ebert conceded that while Schneider may make bad movies, he's a good man. Aww.
- Roger Ebert himself is an Inverted Trope of this; he's a revered, Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, but his actual filmography is something else.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: The 1998 American version of Godzilla had the mayor of New York City as an Ebert lookalike. Used as a Take That, Critics! by the end of the film when his aide (an Expy of Gene Siskel) gives his job performance a thumbs down. This was because Siskel and Ebert had criticized Emerich's earlier productions. Ebert was offended not by the portrayal, but thought that if Emerich hated them so much he should have had the balls to have Godzilla eat them.
- Overly Narrow Superlative: In his review of the movie Leaves of Grass, he calls it "the most intelligent, philosophical and poetic film I can imagine that involves five murders in the marijuana-dealing community of Oklahoma and includes John Prine singing 'Illegal Smile.'"
- Poe's Law:
- Ebert admitted that the paradox is true of all satire, to some extent. In order to poke fun at something, you first have to play it straight, and unless you beat your audience over the head with the point that you really don't agree with what you're depicting, there's always going to be someone who takes you seriously.
- Ebert went political and wrote a blog post giving a statement of creationist beliefs, with the intention of making a point about people's inability to recognize irony. While many people did see the satire, a significant number of readers either thought he was being serious or assumed the site had been hacked. PZ Myers criticized the article, pointing out that when there are so many people making the same claims without irony, the joke becomes undetectable to anyone who doesn't already know Ebert's stance on the issue.
- Ebert records in his biography that after producing Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, an infamously over-the-top parody of sexploitation films, he and Russ Meyer met the Sex Pistols, and were nonplussed when Johnny Rotten said he admired the film because it was so true to life.
- Quotes Fit for a Trailer: Ebert observed in Ebert's Glossary of Movie Terms that this is apparently the only reason a character ever exclaims "This just keeps getting better and better!"
- Reality Is Unrealistic:
- When reviewing the 1998 remake of Psycho he complained of the evident electronically tweaked voice of the cop to make it sound unusually deep for effect. After someone wrote to him in the "Questions for the Movie Answer Man" column correcting him, he had to add a footnote to later versions of the review saying "I was wrong: that's James Remar's real voice."
- His original review of Walk the Line was under the impression that a) Joaquin Phoenix was lip-synching to Johnny Cash's music, as he felt it was too uncanny to be Phoenix and b) Johnny Cash proposing to June Carter mid-song was a Hollywood fabrication, although one that Ebert liked anyway. To his astonishment, he learned through the credits that Phoenix did indeed do his own singing, and through responses to the Movie Answer Man, that Cash proposed to Carter as depicted in the film, which was then amended in the review.
- Retirony: Was a victim of it. In his final blog post "A Leave of Presence", he announced his retirement from the Chicago Sun-Times for health reasons and planned to pick a set of writers to take his place on his website. However, he planned to still review the films he wanted to review. Two days later, he died.
- Review Ironic Echo: He sometimes used the dialogue or title from a movie against them when he really disliked it.
- "'This sucks on so many levels.' — Dialogue from Jason X. Rare for a movie to so frankly describe itself."
- From his review of The Last Airbender: review: "I close with the hope that the title proves prophetic."
- "Dear God is the kind of movie where you walk out repeating the title."
- "All I want for Christmas is to never see All I Want for Christmas again."
- "Oh no, not You Again."
- Sci Fi Ghetto: Disliked this view; he noted that he reviewed movies based on both their artistic worth and how much he thought their intended audience would enjoy them.
- Scenery Porn: Ebert was willing to give high scores to movies solely for being visually impressive and creative, even if their stories may be lacking. Examples include TRON and Final Fantasy The Spirits Within.
- He also mentioned that he enjoyed The Matrix "just to look at it".
- Self-Deprecation: At a tribute to the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko, Ebert gamely read Royko's snarky review of Ebert's screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
- So Bad, It's Good: He gave movies like this 1-star, as opposed to zero-star ratings, which he reserved for films either so bad they were terrible or which morally offended him with racism or voyeuristic violence. This means his shit-list of films given zero-stars is not as fun to watch as you might think, since it is composed almost entirely of truly awful films mixed with soul-destroying Gorn.
- Sophisticated as Hell: Despite his somewhat highbrow image. See the page quotation, for instance.
- Strawman Has a Point: Ebert's review of The Life Of David Gale, which is a different type of this trope wherein the movie's central characters go so ridiculously far to show that their position is right, you cannot help but be disgusted with them. He also provides the page quotation for this trope, referring to I Am Sam.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: With Gene Siskel, which was a big part of what made their eponymous show so enjoyable to watch. See these outtakes for instance. After a while they practically became Like an Old Married Couple.
Siskel: [Ebert] may be an asshole, but he's my asshole.
- Volleying Insults: A war of words erupted between The Brown Bunny director Vincent Gallo and Ebert, with Ebert writing that The Brown Bunny was the worst film in the history of Cannes, and Gallo retorting by calling Ebert a "fat pig with the physique of a slave trader." Ebert then responded, paraphrasing a statement attributed to Winston Churchill: "One day I will be thin, but Vincent Gallo will always be the director of The Brown Bunny." Gallo then claimed to have put a hex on Ebert's colon, cursing the critic with cancer. Ebert then replied that watching a video of his colonoscopy had been more entertaining than watching The Brown Bunny.
- It should be noted here that Gallo went and re-edited The Brown Bunny; Ebert's review of the revision is a complete 180-degree switch in tone, proclaiming that Gallo's editing made The Brown Bunny a totally different, and better film. Ebert even went so far as to say he was glad he saw the original cut, as flawed as he thought it was, so he was able to better appreciate the revised edition.
...and until next time, the balcony is closed.