Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert, 1942-2013

By now, you've probably heard about the death of Roger Ebert at the age of 70. Ebert is best known for being a movie critic on TV, first with Gene Siskel for many years and then, after Siskel's death in 1999, with Richard Roeper. Ebert left his show after cancer forced him off the air in 2006, eventually costing him his voice and much of his lower jaw. But you probably know all of this.

Something less-known might be that Ebert wrote the screenplay to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which has become a cult classic since its release in 1970. Apparently, Ebert had said good things about some of director Russ Meyer's earlier work, which is how Ebert got the opportunity to meet the director, a meeting which eventually led to the job writing the screenplay, as the movie was directed by Meyer.

The fact that the writer of the screenplay for such a movie could go on to become one of America's most respected movie critics is indirectly part of the reason why I have, if not a jaundiced view of critics, one that's less than trusting. I don't particularly place much stock in what any one critic, or critics as a whole, say about movies. I hang out at the TCM boards, and there are some posters there who have interesting views on old movies, and some whose views I find I'm almost always diametrically opposed to. (I also find I disagree strongly with a lot of what I've read from Pauline Kael.) That, and some of the bloggers I've got in my blogroll.

The ironic thing is that I think Ebert might have been the best of the critics when TCM had its "Critics Choice" series back in October 2010. Having lost his voice, he was forced to prepare all his comments beforehand instead of having a real conversation with Robert Osborne. One of Ebert's choices was The Lady Eve, and he made some very intelligent comments about the film, focusing on the scene early on in the boat when Barbara Stanwyck ends up in Henry Fonda's lap.

Unrelated, but that movie is one of quite a few films that shows how Fonda was actually relatively adept at comedy. He wasn't necessarily cracking jokes, but reacting to everybody else being funny around him. It's a type of comedy that Gary Cooper also did extremely well, even though I think Cooper might have had even more obviously comic roles as in Ball of Fire. James Stewart would be another one who has an excellent example of this sort of comedy, in You Can't Take It With You.

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