Saturday, April 6, 2013


Many of the numerous tributes to Roger Ebert that I've seen over the last couple of days refer to his mastery of the put-down of bad movies. For instance, this piece, actually titled "Funniest Roger Ebert Quotes," equating funny with critical.

Or - and don't read the previous one first if you want to try this one - an actual quiz, "Can you pick the movies by the quote from Roger Ebert's negative review?"

It's funny, because I was once (actually twice, by the same person) scolded for my criticisms of Peter Jackson on the grounds that there was no market for attacks on movies, because people who hated a given movie don't want to read about it. Don't want to read about it? Ebert raised the put-down to a high art! Did you know he actually published two book collections just of his bad reviews, in addition to all the others of his good ones?

True, I'm not as funny as Roger Ebert, though this reviewer certainly seemed to think I had struck an apt nerve, but the scolder wasn't criticizing my execution but the whole concept. What she really meant was, of course, "Don't say anything bad about movies I personally like."

While I'm generally more interested in reviews of movies I have seen than of ones I haven't, unless I'm actively trying to decide whether to see it, I have nothing to say against Ebert's pans of movies I've seen, even if I liked them better than he did. I saw The Village, and had to admire M. Night's talent for eeriness, even though, yep, what Ebert has to say about the secret is sadly true. (True, also, of every other movie of his I've seen, including the vastly over-rated The Sixth Sense.)

Also, Ebert's article on being an SF fan in the 50s, far more articulate than most such about the appeal of fandom, and something I was still able to feel when I came along 20 years later. I was particularly struck by this line of his: "Most fanzines had a small circulation of a few hundred, but they created a reality so intriguing and self-referential that, for fans, they were the newspapers of a world." Yes, that was a large part of it. There was a world to enter, it had a door, and the key to that door was to learn its terminology, customs, and folkways. It wasn't that difficult if you were devoted to it. This is why I find it so strange when people entering fandom today seem so burningly resentful of the fact that it's already around and already has its customs. They expect it to re-shape itself instantly in their image, or else. In my generation - even though it was the generation of youth most over-touted in the history of American adolescence - we were never so arrogant or self-centered. But there it is.

One other point. Some fool, possibly Sibelius, once said, "Nobody ever erected a statue to a critic." Besides not being true, actually, it's irrelevant. Critics aren't in the business of having statues raised to themselves; they're in the business of deciding who does get the statues. But look at the love and respect accorded to Roger Ebert today and is there any doubt? If it were still customary regularly to raise statues of the honored deceased, surely high on the list would be he.

(And in that statue, Ebert would be seated. And next to him would be Gene Siskel.)

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