Remembering Roger Ebert: A cultural icon and true scholar
By Janet Simons
“Movies do not change, but their viewers do,” Roger Ebert wrote in an article that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times in January 1997. But one thing about the movies does change – the people in them. And that’s especially evident in the Up series of documentaries, which began in 1964, when director Michael Apted first filmed 14 British schoolchildren as they went through their daily lives.
So it’s a great thing that before his death on April 4, he was able to see and review 56 Up, the latest release in the series. Ebert’s humanity shines through each word of what was one of the last movies he was able to review.
“In one of my several reviews of the Up documentaries, I referred to the series as the noblest project in cinema history,” he wrote. “I am older now and might refrain from such hyperbole. But we are all older now, and this series proves it in a most deeply moving way.”
Ebert’s death came just days before the 65th Conference on World Affairs, which kicked off today at the University of Colorado in Boulder, an event Ebert attended for 40 years. I had the rare privilege of experiencing Ebert’s warmth and humanity up close and personal back in 2005, when I took my 18-year-old son to the critic’s “Cinema Interruptus” presentation of La Dolce Vita. We went up to the stage after the presentation, where Ebert would cheerfully mingle with audience members.
The day following Ebert’s death at age 70, I called my son and asked what he remembered about the experience.
“He asked me what my favorite movie was, and I was embarrassed that it was The Matrix,” Reuben told me. “But he said I shouldn’t be embarrassed, because it was a really great film.
“I went to those movies mostly expecting to see a cultural icon,” he continued. “I was surprised to find a true scholar who understood movies on a very high level.”
Ebert opened my son’s eyes to a whole new world of movie appreciation. And, for that, I will always be grateful.
During today’s conference, CWA Director James Palmer renamed CU’s Macky Auditorium “Ebert Hall” for the week, where audience members, in unison, gave a collective “thumbs up” in honor of the late film critic.
“Once we settle into our life’s careers, most of us charge the line with our heads down,” Ebert once wrote about the CWA. ” I have a tendency, for example, to think the world revolves around movies. Once a year at the Conference, I am forced to think on subjects not of my own choosing. I get to talk to people from other worlds.”
The Conference on World Affairs is free and open to the public. If you can’t make it to Boulder, Colo., but would like to listen in the proceedings, which continue through April 12, go to colorado.edu/cwa/webcast.html.
— Additional reporting by Brittany Anas