I was queueing up for another film at TIFF today (I’ve lost count of how many lines I’ve been in). I looked up briefly from my stack of notes and a couple feet in front of me was Roger Ebert, smiling. But then I remembered that his face has a permanent smile now. Ebert underwent facial reconstruction following a bout with thyroid cancer and post-surgical complications. It appeared as if he was having a tough day, slowly shuffling through the theater lobby. I’m guessing that quite a few of his days are tough lately.
Many people know Ebert from his countless appearances on the Tonight Show and his iconic television series with the late Gene Siskell—Siskell and Ebert were responsible for making “thumbs up/thumbs down” part of pop culture. But long before he was a personality, Ebert was the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for his work at the Chicago Sun-Times.
Ebert is still at it. His reviews are syndicated to more than 200 newspapers around the world and someone else (usually actors or newsmen) voice his segments on his new PBS series, Ebert Presents: At the Movies.
I desperately wanted to tell Ebert how much he meant to me; how important his reviews, always written with joy and intellect, were to me. But it was a nice consolation to see him literally surrounded by movies today.
If 21st century film critics have any credibility, they owe a debt of gratitude to Ebert.