I’ve been watching and reading reviews by Roger Ebert for more than half my life, now. In Junior High, I was elated to find that we both loved “L.A. Confidential” and sad that he did not share my unbridled enthusiasm for “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer,” regarded by me, at the time of its release, to be the best movie that year. In 2005, he and I agreed, to my big surprise, that “Crash” was the best film of the year. Last year, we had another big disagreement about the merits of “Juno.”
What places his words above those of other critics are his observations of technique and theme and life, his understanding of those criteria within the scope of human and film history, and his unconditional love of movie-lovers. He would know, he is one. I read a great many critics opinions, but it is Ebert who has taught me the most, both about movies and about criticism.
Recently he posted a blog called “Why I’m so Conservative” in which he stated:
For some time past I’ve realized I am profoundly conservative. No, not in my politics. In my thinking about the movies, and particularly about how best to experience them. This may be a character flaw, but I cherish it, and believe it helps my criticism. I adhere to the notion that the best way to see a movie is by light projected through celluloid onto a large screen in front of a sizable audience that gives it their full attention. The key words here are projected, celluloid, large screen and attention…
I love silent films. I miss radio drama. In some matters, I feel almost like a reactionary. I love books, for example. Physical books with pages, bindings, tactile qualities and even smell. Once a year I take down my hardbound copy of the works of Ambrose Bierce, purchased for $1.99 by mail order when I was about 11, simply to inhale it. Still as curiously pungent as ever. I summarily reject any opportunity to read a book by digital means…”
I could not agree more. It is my contention that one of the most meaningful and satisfying things to say in the English language is “hardback book.” And I’ve been making it a point to see classic movies on the big screen whenever I can. This year, I’ve seen “Casablanca” and “The Wizard of Oz,” both of which I’d seen many times before. But up until seeing them in a theater with a large crowd of other people, I had never fully appreciated them, or understood them, or taken in their cinematic charms. Mostly, though, it has made me yearn for that old era of movie-going. there are so many new releases today that even “The Dark Knight,” which has made over $500 million, is now on the verge of being forgotten, less than three months after its release. Just 10 years ago, “Titanic” was #1 at the Box Office for 17 consecutive weeks!
It’s hard to watch a Classic movie on DVD without lumping it into this mode of movie-going. But seeing them up there in a dark theater, with hundreds of strangers, people of all ages, you can get a hint of how they became Classics. You can see why they mean so much more to so many more people than so many of the movies today. I love having more choices of what to see, but I wish I could experience the feeling of a movie that is in town for months and months, that people go see 10 times, that they take their friends to, then their families, then they go to them alone, then again just because. That communal sense is lost, I think, and I guess I’m a bit jealous I never got to be there. It’s hard to feel you’re seeing a New Classic (and despite your opinions on them, both “The Dark Knight” AND “Titanic” certainly are… that is a separate blog though), when it’s gone so quickly from the public radar. The power of NEW seems to trump all, and I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.
Once in a blue moon, movies can still feel communal. Usually they are smaller films. I saw “Memento” in theaters 3 times, taking my Dad, then different friends. I introduce everyone I can to the charms and powers of “Once.” And whenever I have a big group of people over for a movie night and they can’t decide, my default choice is “Brick.” “Donnie Darko” was another movie like that – I bought it, watched it over and over with anyone who would watch it, loaned it to people. So that’s… 4 movies in 7 years.
This has been an untidy blog, I agree. Is it about Ebert? Is is about Criticism? Is it about Movies? They all mix together in my head, I guess, so it seems only fitting to put them all together.