On April 4, Roger Ebert, the first-ever Pulitzer-Prize-winning film critic, died after a long battle with cancer. Working in healthcare, we often meet patients battling a disease and become inspired by their stories, ones we often use to educate the public about a particular disease state. Ebert was definitely a patient whose cancer journey inspired millions. Despite being unable to speak in the traditional sense, due to cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands, his “way with words,” via a computerized voice system, continued to resonate.
Most of us recall Ebert from his movie review television show with “rival critic,” Gene Siskel. The two reviewers would comment on a movie’s strengths or weaknesses – sometimes agreeing, often arguing. But Ebert actually began his cinematic commentary in print at the Chicago Sun-Times nearly five decades ago, and it was in those pages that he began to shape how America sees the movies.
What I most admired about Ebert was his ability to articulate his “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” on the movies he reviewed. He wove pointed, occasionally angry, often witty and sometimes sarcastic commentary into each of his columns. I can’t remember the specific reviews, but I do know that it was his words that helped me decide how I’d spend my dollars at the theater. No matter the hype surrounding the movie, if Roger didn’t like it, it wasn’t worth my time.
Ebert, along with Siskel, held a lot of power in his heyday. The movie studios must’ve bitten their nails over how his review would come out. A positive review could add tens of millions of dollars to the take; negative, it could mean financial ruin. All just with words.
What it really boiled down to was that Ebert had the power of his convictions. He believed in the power of film and he knew that his words had the ability to point people in the right direction. That’s the kind of power we should all want to possess.
On April 2, in his last blog post, Ebert announced he was taking a “leave of presence” because a hip fracture had turned out to be cancerous. He ended his post with his infamous signoff, “I’ll see you at the movies.”
He died two days later.
RIP Roger Ebert. I will continue to give you “thumbs up.”
Neil Hochman is a managing supervisor at TogoRun. His favorite movies are The Godfather, The Godfather Part II and The Shawshank Redemption, but he will stop and watch The Hunt for Red October anytime it’s on.