I did not always understand what I was watching but it did not matter to me. As long as I experienced an emotional reaction and was entertained, I was content and satisfied. I remember seeing a flying car in one movie and wondering why my family was stuck with a four door sedan. After seeing a boy fly on screen I could not wait to get that ability, figuring it would be taught to me in school. You see, movies always had a major influence on me. Once the film started I could easily be taken away from the reality around me, transported to the time and place inside the movie screen. Fantasy has always been mightier than reality in my world. Once I became aware of movie critics, the first pages I took out from the newspaper were from the entertainment section. Poring over every article pertaining to movies became an obsession (really? you ask). There was one critic who was different from all the rest; he was someone I soon felt was in synch with me. I never sensed he was talking down to me; it was as if we were sitting together and he was explaining what the movie would offer me. That movie critic was Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times. Every week I had a standing date with him to plan out my weekend of movies. SPANNING the decades of his life, this documentary directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) unapologetically and candidly showed how Roger went from a young boy to newspaper reporter to Pulitzer Prize winning film critic to his battles with cancer. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street, Hugo), this film festival nominee did an outstanding job of blending various sources together such as family film footage, outtakes from Roger’s television show with fellow movie critic Gene Siskel and interviews with a variety of friends and celebrities. I felt this movie was evenly balanced; it did not shy away from tough subjects, nor did it try to sway the viewer by the way things were depicted. There were a few scenes that were hard to watch when Roger was shown struggling with his health issues. When you think about it, there really could be no other way to make this film. Roger approved and it was even shown how he wanted this film to show him as he really was in life. Whether it was his alcoholism or showing how he got nourishment after his surgery; for me, this biographical film was the real thing. It was an incredible life squeezed into the short time frame of this wonderful documentary. I know if Roger would have reviewed this film he would have given it a thumbs up.
The first movie I can recall seeing at a theater was Pinocchio. From that first time I became enamored with movies; following my brothers, parents and grandparents in our love for cinema. I was fortunate to have sat in some of the old regal movie theaters with their intricately carved terra cotta walls and bright marquees. There was one theater that stood out from all the rest for me. It had a lobby with marble columns that soared up towards a high domed ceiling. Between the candy counter and the aisle entrances were black wrought iron gates trimmed in gold. Seats were covered in a maroon colored velour fabric. They probably looked deeper in color due to the orange glow of lights coming out of the cauldrons and pots that were part of the carved reliefs along the walls. I loved going to see a film in this movie palace. In fact, I thought I could easily get hired as an usher there because of my strong affection for movies; not understanding I was underaged by a few years. As times changed so did movie houses; going from the ornateness I just described to square, flat walled boxes that were void of any personality. I will say the plus for me was when stadium seating was introduced; eliminating my anxiety over the possibility the seat in front me getting occupied by a tall person.
I see this bridge between old and new being similar to Roger coming on the scene. There were movie critics before him, but he took movie reviews in a new direction. Roger made them personal, adding a quick turn of words that could be sarcastic as well as funny. What I liked most about his reviews were the way they made me feel as if he was talking directly to me. Roger’s reviews were not only the highlight when I read the newspaper, they instilled a comfortableness that I still get to this very day when holding the pages of a newspaper. Because of him, when I decided to write movie reviews; I wanted to make them personal. To show how the movie related to me was something important I wanted to share with the readers. There is nothing like having a movie surprising the viewer and taking them away to a different place. I will sadly miss Roger’s reviews but I can just see him now having spirited discussions with his dear friend Gene Siskel and some of the classic movie stars from yesteryear.