Friday, December 03, 2004

Ebert on Life and Movies

Roger Ebert's reviews have always been important to me. He lets himself be moved by science fiction and silly comedies when they're good -- and when he's unhappy with something, you can usually understand if it's just him having some overwhelming bias or something fundamentally wrong with the film. He's a clear writer, full stop. But that doesn't really capture all of why I enjoy him; he's a real, solid, unpretentious guy, someone I think I would kind of like. He's not usually very flowery, but he often moves me anyway, just from his simple accounts of how something made him think hard or feel differently. He makes me think about entertainment and how it relates to life. In a personal essay about this last year, during which he went through major surgery and radiation treatment, he muses on work, movies, and mortality. It's very worth a read.

When I was 15 and starting out as a sportswriter at the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, I would labor for hours over my lead paragraph. Bill Lyon, who was a year older than me and would later become a famous columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, advised me, "Get to the end of the piece before you go back to revise the beginning. Until you find out where you're going, how can you know how to get there?" I took his advice and have never looked back. It condenses into a rule most writers discover sooner or later: The Muse visits during the work, not before it.

What I am trying to say is that I love my work. I love movies, I love to see movies, I love to write about movies, I love to talk about movies, I love to go through them a frame at a time in the dark with a room full of people watching them with me and noticing the most extraordinary things. On the Monday at Boulder, we showed "The Rules of the Game" all the way through and several people confessed they found it disappointing. Then we went through it for the rest of the week, a shot or even a frame at a time. By the Friday, they embraced it with a true passion. On Monday, we looked at it. By Friday, we had seen it.

I am embarrassed to admit I haven't finished Rules of the Game yet, and feel I need his help with it.

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