I know a lot of people were heavily influenced by Pauline Kael’s reviews, but for me, it was Roger Ebert all the way. I grew up watching his film reviews, and only became a reader when I was older, in my early twenties, when the Sun-Times began posting them online. I got into the habit of reading all of his reviews, even of movies that I had absolutely no intention of seeing, because who knows what amusing or cutting thing he might say. His reviews are little essays, journeys into his particular worldview, and in that way, I felt I knew him, long before he began blogging about his actual personal life.
One of the great things about getting to know a critic through his/her work is coming to understand or sense variance in taste. Ebert had, I think, a soft spot for a certain type of B-movie that I just don’t share (Galaxy Quest comes to mind, though I can’t find his review in the rogerebert.com archive to confirm that he liked it). But I love that he loved stuff like that. Art takes many forms. The word “populist” comes to mind, or “genre,” but these are both ways of ghettoizing work, and I take umbrage with them (even as I hypocritically I scorn whole categories of visual art, ie Western. I am so bored by a man on a horse.).
I took a nonfiction craft class with Ander Monson a couple years ago and I remember that he had occasion to mention watching an episode of Bones, and someone scoffed. Ander was all, “Really? We’re going to be like that?” and thus quelled the beast of snobbitude, a habitual visitor to the MFA scene. Sometimes we need reminders like that. I think Ebert provided them all the time, implicitly, in his reviews. He was smart like that.
It’s so strange that he’s gone.