Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

In praise of Roger Ebert.

As regular readers will know, I spent some time in Cannes taking photographs of distinguished film writers. (Hey, they were easier to get at than the movie stars.) One person I did not snap, however, was Roger Ebert. I saw …

Fri, May 28, 2010, 18:00

   

As regular readers will know, I spent some time in Cannes taking photographs of distinguished film writers. (Hey, they were easier to get at than the movie stars.) One person I did not snap, however, was Roger Ebert. I saw Roger at quite a few screenings, but, noting the dramatic facial surgery he has undergone for thyroid cancer, I didn’t think it appropriate to ask him to pose for the camera. In the spectacularly unlikely event that he is reading this and poo-pooing my discretion,  I apologise. Give me a wave next time and I’ll oblige.

Anyway, despite his serious illness, Roger, long-time film critic for the Chicago Sun Times, continues to hammer out high-quality copy at a prodigious rate. Check out his “blog” for incisive prose and generous profusions of hearty wit. There aren’t many of the critical giants left, but he definitely qualifies. Okay, all that “thumbs-up” stuff on his long-running TV show was a bit undignified. You were, however, never in any doubt that there was a serious film-going brain behind all the jollity.

So Screenwriter is a supporter of Ebert’s critical inclinations? Not really. I disagree with much of what he has written about this year’s Cannes. He is much less enthusiastic about Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives than was this writer. I think, in discussing Life Above All, he ignores that film’s near fatal sentimentality. More generally, he seems, to me, to be far, far too easy to please in his regular weekly reviews. Browse through Metacritic and, time and time again, Ebert’s review appears towards the top of the entries for unforgivable turkeys.

Never mind that. The most important things for a critic — all considerably more important than being “right” — are to write good, secure prose and to demonstrate knowledge of and enthusiasm for your subject. Ebert never fails to meet those criteria. I like him much more than those critics with whom I consistently agree.

Oh, and he co-wrote the script for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and knocked-out an unused screenplay for a Sex Pistols movie. Claudia Winkleman can’t compete with that.