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Thursday, April 04, 2013

A Four-Star Contribution

The final credits have rolled for Roger Ebert, Pulitzer prize-winning film critic.

Like so many others, my first exposure to Ebert's work came thanks to Sneak Previews, the PBS movie review show that made Ebert and his partner Siskel famous. I followed Sneak Previews (and later At the Movies) eagerly as a teen, but it was Ebert's written reviews I really savoured, discovering them at the local library and through Microsoft's dearly-missed Cinemania PC software package. Indeed, I might never have started reviewing films myself if I hadn't been inspired by Ebert's excellence.

While I often disagreed with Ebert's assessments of certain films, the power, beauty and wit of his writing always compelled me to read more. His relatively recent review of The Human Centipede ends thusly:

"I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it. The star rating system is unsuited to this film. Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don't shine." 

This isn't simply a pun, but Ebert's way of telling his readers that some movies utterly defy conventional assessment because they've gone so far off the rails that they enter the realm of the uncanny. In cinematic terms, The Human Centipede is like the heat death of the universe, the utter oblivion that comes after the form has worn itself out.

Film critics are often accused of snobbery, but Ebert played fair with his reviews; he rated films based on how those films accomplished their goals. An effective genre film was as likely to get four stars from Ebert as more prestigious art-house fare, as long as it did the job it set out to do, whether that meant a horror film scaring the pants off its audience, an action movie delivering solid thrills or an SF film providing a sense of wonder.

Ebert also happened to be a socially conscious, progressive human being, a stance that informed and enriched his reviews. I admired the man, and I'm sorry he'll never see tomorrow's classic movies.

My final rating? Two thumbs up for a four-star contribution to film criticism and popular culture. See you at the movies, Roger, at least in spirit.

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