One Film Lover’s Opinion – Roger Ebert Should Retire
October 20, 2010 17 Comments
Sometimes the great ones just stay around too long. They are the ones who, for whatever reason, can’t say goodbye. The ego is accustomed to the spotlight that has been shining on them – and still craves it. They enjoy what they do too much and the prospect of “hanging ‘em up” sends chills down their spines. So they linger…they stay. And in doing so, the legacy takes a hit. The work weakens, the talent deteriorates. Athletes are notorious for this. I was never old enough to watch the renowned Willie Mays play, but his outstaying his welcome is legendary, as every baseball fan knows that he was a shell of his former self when he was traded from the San Francisco Giants to play haplessly for the New York Mets. I witnessed Michael Jordan dominate the basketball court for years, seizing every MVP award and championship that he could. How many times did he “retire” before being outplayed by a younger generation as a member of the Washington Wizards? Of course, it isn’t just athletes that suffer from this inability to make a graceful exit. I’m sure it happens in many walks of life – and apparently, a career in film criticism is no exception.
So, ok…I’ll be the one to say it. Roger Ebert and the most famous thumbs in the country need to retire. In fact, this should have happened a few years ago. Political correctness and being kind simply for the sake of being kind can be damned. I’m just telling it like it is. As a film enthusiast, I have read and learned from countless reviews by Mr. Ebert, watched the famed “Siskel and Ebert” program, and bought a few of his books on film criticism. His writing never analyzed and appraised films academically or as in-depth as colleagues such as Pauline Kael or Jay Hoberman, but his clarity and conversational tone always did the trick. He seemed to review movies for the everyman – and since the mid-70’s, there hasn’t been a more famous film critic, a name with more marquee value than his. Hell, he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 – how many film critics can say that? I particularly love his writing from the 1970’s – a remarkable decade for film – and the selected reviews for his Great Movies books.
But let’s face it, the once mighty 68-year old critic isn’t much of a critic anymore. Have you read some of his recent reviews??? This guy likes just about everything nowadays! He is not nearly as discerning as he once was, finding greatness in the mediocre and lacking the wit and bite that put him on the map in the first place. Mr. Ebert has made obvious factual errors from time to time and even posted a film review, while openly admitting to watching only the first 8 minutes. Talk about mailing it in! I know a number of film bloggers who take their websites more seriously than this – many who write very intelligent and insightful film critique and would kill to be making a career out of it. I used to look forward to reading his reviews of the movies I was looking forward to and putting some credence in it. I haven’t felt that way in years, looking elsewhere for sharp and astute criticism. When I see a movie trailer or billboard boasting a small quote with his name beneath it, I am aware that it is there because the name ‘Roger Ebert‘ carries with it tremendous cache, as it should. After all, the man worked hard to earn that reputation. We see his name and think, “Oh, it must be good. Roger Ebert liked it!” But that hasn’t been the case for some time now.
Of course, Mr. Ebert has been fighting a courageous battle since being diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer in 2002. He has undergone numerous surgeries, lost his voice, underwent rehabilitation and has encountered many setbacks (i.e. a hip fracture in 2008) during the past eight years. And, thankfully, he is still with us. I don’t believe the man should retire because he is ill — or because he is older. That is not what I am saying at all. But since he decided to fight his serious health problems in such a public venue, it has become painfully obvious that his weakening condition (he has a full-time live-in nurse since early this year) has affected his work. He is Willie Mays making that egregious error in centerfield for the New York Mets. He is a shadow of his once formidable self. And as a tremendous fan of his past work, it is upsetting to see. Fans want to see their heroes bow out gracefully…while still on top. We don’t want to see the slow collapse of talent and success, having only the memories of old to cling to. Mr. Ebert still screens films and writes about them. And God bless his determination and will. But it is only human nature that, as we age, most of us grow more forgiving, kinder, and less judgmental — all fatal traits in describing any film critic worth his weight in salt. I would speculate that these attributes are magnified more so when that age is coupled with such considerable health issues.
I don’t write this intending to be a slap in the face to Mr. Ebert. Far from that. I write this because I love movies — and his work has played a small part as to why I love them so. I am an admirer…a fan. I wish him well.