When I was 11 years old, I began reading film critic Roger Ebert’s reviews. I quickly became a compulsive viewer of “Ebert & Roeper,” setting my VCR to record the program every Saturday night. And his reviews became an indelible part of my life. I started seeing certain types of films that hitherto I had only examined with curiosity at video stores or seen in giant advertisements in newspapers. I felt almost too young and too unsophisticated to approach many of the great works of cinema, but Ebert’s reviews brought these giant films down to earth for me. In 2002 and 2003, I made ventures to see films such as Owning Mahoney, Raising Victor Vargas, Nowhere in Africa and The Quiet American in Austin cinemas.
A few months before I turned 12, I began writing weekly film reviews for an Austin publication in April of 2002. Only weeks later, my father passed away. I don’t think I knew how to deal with that kind of pain at such a young age, and I believe I ran away from it by immersing myself in movies more than ever. Through his criticism, Ebert acted as a kind of guide into this new, frightening world that I was entering.
I religiously watched my way through Ebert’s Great Movies list, and I can proudly tell you his favorite film from every year he worked as a critic (for many of the years, I can even recite his entire top 10 list by memory).
As a young man, I bought Ebert’s annual Movie Yearbooks and read them compulsively. Anytime I was in the car with my mom, I would bring my copy of his original Great Movies book with me. As she drove, I read his reviews and articles aloud – sometimes on a film we had just watched at home the night before, other times on a film that I was trying to convince her to let me see.
As a ‘film critic’ in the Austin circuit, I was invited to advance press screenings days or sometimes weeks before new films were officially released in theaters, which meant I would have to form an opinion on my own without first consulting Ebert, which was a large step for me as a critical thinker. Days after finishing my own review, I would read Ebert’s piece when it was published, and I was always giddy when he felt the same way I did about a film.
When you revisit a film after several years, you also revisit Ebert’s review. Most recently, I returned to his Great Movies article on Nashville, one of my favorite films, and it’s impossible for me now to talk about Nashville without mentioning Ebert’s beautiful words on the film. The meaning of the movie itself is tied to his prose – in a sense, without his words, the picture is not really complete.
I can’t believe he’s gone. I keep checking his website to see what Roger Ebert has to say about the death of such a great human being, and it’s only then that I remember. As a film critic, I am at a loss for words.
There are other film critics I admire, but none in whom I can take comfort like Roger Ebert. As an aspiring filmmaker, I wonder, for whom will we make movies anymore?
Jack Kyser is a graduate of Austin High School and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.