Roger Ebert died yesterday, so I thought I’d dedicate this blog post to him. I followed Roger Ebert’s work for years, but not just for his movie reviews. It was his voice that attracted me and the lessons I learned from him. Below are six lessons I learned from Roger Ebert.
1. Use Your Voice
How Roger Ebert said what he said was unique and authentic. Even after Roger Ebert lost his voice, his style was unmistakable. His words were honest, clear, insightful, and sharp. I always felt that he managed to say exactly what he thought.
He delighted in a movie done well and appreciated it for what it was trying to be– not an idealized version of a good film. If we was reviewing a campy comedy, he asked, “Was this a good campy comedy?” He wasn’t disappointed that it wasn’t like those highbrow, subtle, and very British Ivory Merchant films. I admired that talent and strove to emulate it in my own life. So, I learned to appreciate a burger at a dive as well as lobster at the Four Seasons.
3. Do Good Work
He protested against shoddy work and laziness. His criticism could be brutal (and hysterical) when a director or a film failed to offer something unique and valuable to the audience. He made me aware that I had an obligation. If I were going to create something and if someone was going to take their time and energy to watch/read it, then I should take care and pride in creating it.
4. Feel Our Humanity
His reviews often illuminated the human experience. At times, I’d read something he’d written, and I’d understand more about what it meant to be human. For example, when he wrote, “She has the kind of smile that makes a man want to be a better person, so he can deserve being smiled at” in his review of Once.
5. Be An Expert
His commitment to watching and talking about films year after year informed my understanding of what it means to be an expert. Appreciation and understanding takes times, so when he wrote, “You’re insufficiently evolved as a moviegoer,” I strove to pay more attention, to evaluate more, and to appreciate more.
In 2009, he wrote a lengthy post on his blog reflecting on his mortality: Go Gentle Into That Good Night. In that post, he wrote
I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.
Whatever it is that you have to give, give it and make someone a little happier and bring a little more joy to the world. Roger Ebert thought it was the best we can do, and I think he was onto something.