McGinnis: Two loud and proud thumbs upWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
He walked onto the studio stage. His eyes lit up in the brightest smile they could muster without the help of the lower part of his face. He sat down on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to discuss movies, the Oscars and most of all, himself.
For right now, Roger Ebert is a more inspirational story than any movie he could cover.?This was the first time I had seen Ebert on television in four years. I had seen pictures of him, on his Web site and the now-famous image that accompanied a recent Esquire story.
But even though I knew what to expect, it still was a bit shocking. His mouth, hanging limp from his face. The voice that had spoken so passionately and eloquently about so many movies — the voice which helped make me a film buff — was now gone, a victim of the cancer which claimed Ebert’s jaw.
The man is a hero of mine. I have been an ardent fan of his work since 1988, when I was just 11 and started watching “Siskel and Ebert.” My style has many inspirations, but none are bigger than his eloquent and infectiously witty prose. For a generation of movie fans, Ebert’s criticism spoke loudest and his television show helped establish honest and open discussion about film, in a medium where intelligent talk was becoming more and more rare.
Those days are long ago. Gene Siskel, Ebert’s longtime co-host, passed away in 1999. Ebert continued the show with new co-host Richard Roeper until his own illness began to spread. After a first operation, he returned, looking slightly worse for the wear, but still working, still passionate. Then came the next batch of operations which robbed him of his voice and his show.?Ebert can still “speak,” through the use of a computer program that puts voice to the words he writes.
On “Oprah” he first demonstrated a new program which speaks with his voice, culled from the hours of recordings that exist of him doing commentaries.
But never say that Ebert has been “silenced” by this setback. To the contrary. He speaks louder than ever.?He draws millions of visitors to his Web site, www.rogerebert.com, which is updated every week with all the new reviews and other features.
He started a blog in 2008, which has blossomed into one of the most entertaining on the Web, covering myriad topics that Ebert is passionate about, from movies to politics to walks through his beloved London.
He started a Twitter account in late 2009, and has become one of the service’s most prolific users, with more than 4,000 tweets to date.
But more important than the quantity of his words is their quality.
His reviews, always a fountain of substantial criticism, seem deeper now. When he sees a film he loves, his praise is poetic, lyrical.
When he sees a bad one, his usual biting wit comes tinged not only with anger, but with sadness: Why would professionals waste a chunk of their life, and the audience’s, with this dreck? Like a blind man whose other senses become even more acute, Ebert’s writing, which had already won a Pulitzer Prize, has somehow become better than ever.
In 1990, Ebert analyzed the film “My Left Foot,” about cerebral palsy-stricken artist Christy Brown. He wrote, “I am trying to imagine what it would be like to write this review with my left foot. Quite seriously. I imagine it would be a great nuisance — unless, of course, my left foot was the only part of my body over which I had control. If that were the case, I would thank God that there was still some avenue down which I could communicate with the world.”
Clearly, Ebert still has those avenues, and uses them to their fullest extent.
The voice which spoke with such fire may now be silent, but its owner still speaks louder than ever.
And in doing so, he demonstrates a heroic determination more inspiring than any Hollywood tale.
Jeff McGinnis appears at 7 a.m. Wednesdays on the 92.5 KISS-FM “Andrew Z” show. E-mail Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.