(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)
Greg, as everyone knows, last week we lost a legendary movie critic. Roger Ebert passed away at age 70.
Yes. I was really surprised to hear it. I knew that he had been battling cancer for years, but I didn’t know it had returned. I remember watching Siskel & Ebert when I was a teen.
I watched Siskel & Ebert, too, back in the 1980s. They made a big impression on me. They forever changed the way I look at movies. Before, I viewed movies as merely a fun diversion, hardly worth any detailed scrutiny. But Siskel & Ebert treated the movie experience very seriously, as an art form to be examined and carefully critiqued.
Last year I reviewed 50 first run movies. I never read any reviews before writing my own. But I always read Roger Ebert’s review after I published mine. He was the gold standard for movie reviews. While I developed my own style, I learned a lot by reading Ebert.
Ebert clearly had two shining gifts. One gift was a razor sharp critical eye regarding what made a quality movie. He knew good acting, directing, and storytelling when he saw it. The second gift was his ability to articulate his insights with an exemplary command of the English language. I remember being mesmerized by his eloquence and intelligence.
It’s true, he was the first movie critic to be awarded the Pulitzer prize. One of my favorite Ebert moments was when he wrote a response to Rob Schneider. Schneider had taken umbrage at a negative review of one of his “Gigolo” movies written by a critic and took out a full-page ad blasting the review. Ebert devoted a whole column in response with the conclusion that “Your Movie Sucks” – which became the title of his book of bad movie reviews.
He certainly was fearless about communicating his feelings about a movie being disastrously bad. With each new movie release, the movie industry nervously awaited his thumbs up-or-down verdict. Careers were made or broken by Ebert’s edicts. He was far from good-looking yet had a curious charisma that attracted people and won him many admirers.
I’ll miss him, too. He was like a friend you could turn to for terrific insights about your favorite movies. As smart as he was, he trusted his heart over his mind when evaluating movies, saying “your intellect may be confused, but your emotions never lie to you.” That tells me that as a movie critic, he certainly knew how heroes resonate with us all at a deep level. I also give him 5 honorary Heroes.