Roger Ebert is the reason this blog exists.
No, I've never met the man, and haven't had anything more than a one-sided e-conversation with him in the form of my many letters to his famous "Movie Answer Man." But without him, I would not be a movie writer. It was the years and years of watching Siskel & Ebert and the countless hours of reading all of Ebert's reviews, both new and archived, both in print and online, and the years of studying Ebert's historic, legendary work in his many books, from the wonderful Movie Yearbook series to the invaluable Great Movies collections. Roger Ebert has always been, and will always remain, my greatest hero and greatest inspiration in this field. He is the Scorsese of Film Criticism.
Why am I saying all this? Today, Ebert will appear on Oprah, and the world will witness the debut of Ebert's new voice -- which is, amazingly enough, his old voice. After many years of battling a few different forms of cancer and several surgeries on his neck and jaw region, Ebert was left without the ability to speak, and his face has been re-constructed to the appearance that recently appeared in a wonderful Esquire piece on the World's Most Notable Movie Lover. For the last few years -- while his writing has thrived unlike any other period in his career -- he has spoken through a computerized voice program, the first version of which his wife, Chaz, fondly dubbed, "Sir Lawrence," due to its British accent. Lately he's spoken in an American accent called "Alex." Now a Scottish company, CereProc, has devised a way to utilize all the recordings from Ebert's TV appearances and his DVD commentary tracks to form a new "voice" for Ebert, a voice that will sound far more familiar than Lawrence or Alex. It is an exciting development, and will be something to watch. So, too, will be his discussion of the upcoming Oscars, which I'm sure will also be an obligatory -- but oh so fun -- segment on Oprah's show.
I also mention Ebert based on another recent article, by Will Leitch for Deadspin, in which the author recounts his own personal history of following Ebert as his idol, much as Ebert has been my idol. It is a wonderful story...the story I wish I could tell, in all honesty. And so I link to the piece with some requisite light resentment -- why couldn't I have sat with Ebert in a deli, listening and learning and laughing? -- but also with an identification of a kindred spirit. Ebert is a luminary, a legend, but he is also, very simply, a movie lover who inspired me to be a movie lover. For the longest time, my movie reviews mimmicked Ebert's writing style, and I'm sure some of that tone still seeps in from time to time. His influence on me, as was his influence on Leitch and countless others in this business, is inestimable, invaluable, and incredible. I wouldn't be here if not for Roger Ebert. He can take full credit for me even though he's never met me.
Maybe one day I will meet him. Maybe not. But as we approach the industry's annual formal celebration of the cinema, I must give a note of recognition, a note of love, a note of thanks, to the person whose unmatched love of film both formed and informed my own.
Thank you, Roger.