The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
on entertainment and media

« Previous Post | The Big Picture Home | Next Post »

Roger Ebert on Esquire's profile of him: 'I got a jolt'

There are really only two words you need to describe Roger Ebert: indispensable, which would apply to his four decades of brilliant essays and criticism; and indomitable, which would apply to how he's handled his past few years of debilitating physical struggles.

Roger-ebert-jaw-cancer-photo-esquire-0310-lg-thumb-240x290-17913 If you haven't read Esquire's current profile of the 67-year-old Chicago Sun-Times critic, you should carve out the time to do it. Written by Chris Jones, it is both sensitive and unsentimental, especially in the way it describes Ebert's battles with a series of cancer surgeries that caused him to spend more than half of a 30-month stretch in hospitals. A mere shell of himself physically, he still manages to work nonstop -- he saw 281 movies in a 10-month stretch last year -- even though he is now unable to speak and is fed via a G-tube through a hole in his stomach.

But he's a writer, so he keeps writing and writing, better and better than ever. His reviews remain a must-read, as are his blog posts, which range from acerbic political observations to delightful personal remembrances of his youth. After reading the Esquire piece, I suspected that Ebert would be unable to resist offering his own personal reaction to the story. And sure enough, it's up on his blog now, and is just as absorbing as the original Esquire feature.

For Ebert, his life is now an open book and it feels especially refreshing, in our image-obsessed age, to hear him speak so plainly about his insecurities and imperfections. He makes it clear that he admired Jones' piece, especially the graceful writing, though he admits that "I got a jolt from the full-page photograph of my jaw dropping. Not a lovely sight. But then I am not a lovely sight, and in a moment I thought, well, what the hell, it's just as well it's out there. That's how I look, after all .... Running [the photo] that big was good journalism. It made you want to read the article."

For me, the best thing about Ebert's response was getting a glimpse of his own private thought processes. For example, when Jones was due to arrive, Ebert noticed that the bound albums of the wedding photos of him with his wife, Chaz, were sitting out in the living room. "When Chris was about to arrive and I was a little nervous, I told Chaz, 'for God's sake, don't start showing him our wedding photos! That will make us look bourgeois.' She looked at me in disbelief. 'What makes you think I would ever show him our wedding photos?' "

Ebert proceeds to confess that Jones had barely been on the premises for half an hour before the conversation turned to Gene Siskel, Ebert's old "At the Movies" partner and pal -- there are still photos of the late critic all over the Eberts' brownstone. Ebert told Jones what a close friendship the two men had.     " 'His daughters were even the flower girls at our wedding,' I said. 'Chaz, show Chris our wedding photos.' She looked at me like the eighth wonder of the world." Ebert later explained that he was as open as Siskel was secretive, so open that Siskel had once said Ebert's middle names should be Full Disclosure. In that spirit, Chaz impishly proceeded to tell Jones about Ebert's dire warning about the wedding photos.

If Ebert has any regrets about laying out the distressing particulars of his life these days, he's keeping them to himself, which, knowing him, seems an unlikely proposition. As a journalist, I sometimes get complimented when I've written a story that feels true to life, so I know how much it must mean to Jones when Ebert concludes that "I was a little surprised at the detail the article went into about the nature and extent of my wounds and the realities of my appearance, but what the hell. It was true. I don't need polite fictions.... The more interviews you've done, the more you appreciate a good one."

Comments () | Archives (10)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Does anyone else think it looks like Ebert got his lips done? and maybe a little work on his lower jaw? He should fire his plastic surgeon. It's a botch job.

OMG, I'm going to hell.

I read exactly one of Roger's reviews. I never knew that a movie review could leave such an impression. Of course I have seen his reviews on TV but that one written review was writing craft that left me thinking wow.

Congratulations Roger on your great srength in maintaining life with great dignity. NOW if only all people who wished to live in dignity without a PLUG being pulled on would be a wonderful America. Makes me think of Terry Schevavo who was NOT BRAIN DEAD as said BUT DAMAGED!!! Yet she was allowed by fiat from a court so called JUDGE be murdered.......she was on a feeding tube as she could not speak nor was she mobile she was a quad....yet her LIFE had VALUE!!! But her husband made sure to snuff it.

I suspect this will not get posted, as to my remarks..but such is life and the P C police...

Good Luck and keep up the good reviews.....

Many people have ventured down the road of movie reviewing for television, but "At The Moves" with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert has never been topped, let alone matched. After the untimely death of Gene Siskel, we watched as others matched wits with Roger. Some were quite good; others, not so much.

When Roger became physically unable to share the balcony, the television audience lost a giant. But he continues to write. The Esquire story shows that as long as you have some critical thinking skills left, they must be used to keep your life as not only a task worth taking on and living, but as a legacy to all.

Roger Ebert is a shining light to anyone whose life changes because of physical limitations.

The article about Ebert is amazing, when i read about the set of "At the Movies" being donated to the Smithsonian, I couldn't have thought of a better place. Only to read the next sentence that it had been dismantled and placed in the trash! This incident, I must admit brought tears to my eyes. The show reminds me of my childhood and how many movies I shared with Siskel and Ebert. His story is inspiring (though who wants to hear such things?) and gives you reason to think of all the wonders of life we take for granted. Thanks for such a moving and wonderfully written article, it is truly a fitting tribute to a man who brought such passion into my life for movies.

Yes, Markus. There's a tool in the room, and it's you.

Mr. Ebert and Mr. Siskel were two of my first and most important teachers. I was 11 years old when I started watching "Sneak Previews" - for the first time I really got that two intelligent people could have a difference of opinion and that some questions didn't have answers. I learned that from them before I learned that from my actual schooling. Mr. Ebert continues to show me how to learn and how to live.

I've been a proud fan of Roger Ebert since our UI college days. He was an inspiration then and that he remains so today is no surprise. In his twenties, he was a elegant and eloquent writer. He is even more so now. I'm sorry fate has handed him such challenges at this stage of life. That he has risen quietly and magnificently to those challenges is the measure of the man. He is simply the best of writers and his gift is our treasure. Keep writing your way to glory, Roger, for a very, very long time.

i just purchased esquire and read article about ebert and naively did not know he was going thru all that... im shocked, saddened and uplifted buy his words of wisdom im 27 now and i used to stay up late to watch ... at the movies late night when i was 12 i have much respect and admiration for his critics...

I read this very well-written heartfelt story of all the constant medical problems that have been thrown at Roger Ebert. I found his story to be uplifting and almost spiritual in the way he and his loving wife have handled it so far.
However when I read about the set from the "At the Movies" being callously thrown in the dumpster and topped off with the fact that Roger's touching and loving performance show on the week after Siskel had died from brain cancer had been REMOVED from his online journal by Disney due to copyright laws ...well that was too much to take from anyone, much less a company who represents themselves to the public as being family-oriented. Disney/ABC needs to put those tribute shows back in the journal at least until Roger Ebert has left this cruel world.


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

Stay Connected:

About the Bloggers



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: