Thanks to DVD, consumers can now watch films in their original aspect ratio and with subtitles to boot. Thanks to Netflix the smallest art film and most obscure documentary has just as much of a chance of being discovered on your home page as the biggest blockbuster. Thanks to Video On Demand, the smaller films that no longer find themselves being booked in the best theaters can now be viewed in the comfort of your own home in a high quality presentation for only the cost of a single movie ticket. Thanks to revolutions in film making techniques and technology, nearly anyone *can* make a movie if they so choose, and we are meeting new and exciting film making talents each and every day. Thanks to the Internet, film lovers from all over the world can converse with the click of a mouse on any number of social media platforms. Thanks to the Internet, an entire generation of film critics have sprung up from the multiplexes, which makes it all the more likely that one of them will discover a gem that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.
It is not a perfect system. Too many would-be seemingly mainstream films are consigned to the art house because too many blockbusters (good and bad) take up too many of those multiplex screens with their 2D, 3D, and/or IMAX formats. The industry is still overwhelmingly dominated by white males and the critical masses still give their stories more critical respect than those made by and/or intended for female and/or minority audiences. Film criticism is on the brink of falling into a bottomless pit of irony and snark, where how badly you trash a film or how ironically distant you can be is considered more of a virtue than being willing to unabashedly love a film so much that it hurts. The ability to turn a phrase in criticism is not without value, but what value is our profession if we merely exist to point out how everything is terrible? But we can recover from this and we can do so quite easily.
We can highlight not just the films we love over the films we hate, but we can highlight the film writing we admire, film criticism that highlights the good and the great, the underrated or undervalued, as opposed to YouTube videos that bank purely on snark. We can walk into that theater expecting every would-be blockbuster be as good as every would-be Oscar-bait picture and we can give the 'big movies' the same under-the-hood analysis we would offer for a film we expected to be great. We can spend our time writing about the movies we love over the movies we hate. We can point out what is good about the movies that are mostly bad. We can defend the films and the filmmakers who have been unfairly maligned in the media. We can not just write our own work but share the work of those whose work deserves notice. Obviously many of us already do this and many of us occasionally stumble along the way. But when we stumble we (sorry...) keep moving forward and do better next time.
Roger Ebert has died, but the art form he loved is very much alive. We honor him not so much by remembering his reviews of North but rather his and Gene Siskel's raves for Do The Right Thing during a time when pundits were sure that Spike Lee's drama would cause race riots. We honor him by remembering his essays and his and Gene Siskel's relentless championing of Hoop Dreams. We honor him by remembering what films and what filmmakers we never would have discovered at a young age had Ebert (and yes Siskel) not introduced us to them. I had never heard of Martin Scorsese until I started reading Roger Ebert. Sight-unseen, I presumed that Halloween was just another crappy slasher film until Ebert's four-star review compared it to Psycho. To read his review of Speed is to read a film critic absolutely in love with the very idea of top-quality popcorn cinema. We all have our favorites and we all have our disagreements. It's no secret that I felt that Ebert had become spoiler-happy in the last several years, and that he much preferred his essays to his film reviews. But his mark on film criticism is unmatched by anyone before or since.
To paraphrase a film I didn't like as much as he did, Roger Ebert was an inspiration to all of us who loved movies and all of those who loved writing about movies. It will be a very long time before someone... inspires us the way he did. In his honor, I will link to a new movie review site that has greatly impressed me, one that deserves the plaudits that will surely come its way over time (Movie Mezzanine). In his honor, I will plug the wonderful work and wonderful writers found at Why So Blu, because I have so much damn fun whenever I participate in their podcasts and commentaries. In his honor, I will also link to the brand new, fresh-off-the-blog website of Brandon Peters, finally ready to strike it out on his own after nearly a year of impeccable work on this very site. In his honor I will watch one of my fa... no. In his honor, I'll let my wife pick one of her favorite movies. So if I end up watching Grease 2, Batman & Robin, or White Chicks tonight, it's your fault Roger. The balcony remains open, as it always shall. Goodbye, Rog. And thanks for everything.