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The Guns of Navarro: In Tribute to Roger Ebert

Criticism lost one of its most storied figures this week. Alex takes a moment to recognize the man's legacy, both in film and in video games.

For as long as I've loved games, I've loved movies as well. Those were my chosen escapes as a kid, the mediums I looked to when I needed to focus my attention on something other than reality. Console and computer games, of course, scratched a particularly interactive itch that my tiny child brain became just a bit more obsessed with. But right along side my gaming obsession, from just about the earliest age I can recall, was film.

Siskel & Ebert was a regular staple of my childhood, though perhaps not for the reasons intended by its creators.

Of course, like most kids, my attention was generally held by the things being advertised to me the most. Advertising tends to have a much more profound effect on a still-forming young mind than things like critical discourse, after all. Ironically, it was precisely this mentality that led me to start watching the decidedly critical Siskel & Ebert. I can't remember exactly how old I was when I first started watching the syndicated series, but certainly I was young enough to not really care too terribly much about what either of the titular film critics had to say. I mostly just watched the show because I liked the clips of the movies they were talking about.

I watched Siskel & Ebert for years that way. It wasn't until I was maybe 13 or 14 that a specific review caught my ear. It was for the 1994 debacle North, which starred Elijah Wood. Wood had briefly spent some time living in my hometown, which may have been the only reason my ears perked up at all when the two critics began savaging the film with a kind of abandon I'd scarcely ever seen. I'd seen them attack countless movies over the years, but the sheer brutality of their critiques as related to some actor I had only the most tenuous of connections to somehow woke me up. Suddenly, I was listening.

Though I always admired Gene Siskel, it was Ebert's review style that more often grabbed me. Even after Siskel's death in 1999, I kept watching the show, mostly because I found Ebert's editorial voice so engaging. When news of Ebert's death hit this past week, I realized that a big part of my experience with film was suddenly absent. I had been listening to Roger Ebert talk about movies for the better part of my life, and had always felt better off for it.

Early on, before the ubiquity of Internet access made reading his Chicago Sun Times reviews easily accessible to those outside of his region, it was strictly through his TV show. But even through that truncated form, Ebert's wit, thoughtfulness, and sheer depth of knowledge shined through. His conversational writing style was perfectly suited for the television audience, but as I learned later, it also shined wonderfully when read via the page. Ebert rarely came across as pretentious or snobby. Passionate, certainly. Zealous, even. But at its core, his writing always reflected a genuinely relatable man who simply loved movies with all of his being. Even if you vehemently disagreed with his assessments, you never questioned his competency as a critic and cinephile. His intentions and feelings were never obfuscated; he was as plainspoken as critics came.

In my earliest years as a critic of video games, I spent a lot of time trying to force myself into some tone of voice that I thought sounded distinctly "critical." Granted, I was barely 17 when I wrote my first paid reviews, and was only 21 when I started at GameSpot. It wasn't until the latter half of my tenure there that I started going back to old Roger Ebert reviews and reading them not just for entertainment purposes, but also as a learning tool. I tried to pick apart what it was that made him such a beloved critic, what it was about his prose or his structure or whatever else that embodied him. Eventually I realized that there wasn't any real secret sauce to it. Ebert's reviews were just an extension of his own natural voice. He was talking to his audience as he'd talk to any friend or acquaintance, albeit one that does not respond. His only trick was an assured mastery of his own distinctive voice, which he had shaped and refined into an effortlessly wielded instrument. Once I figured that out, I stopped trying to force myself into a voice that didn't feel like my own. While I believe I'm forever growing and learning as a writer, that lesson in particular is the one thing I always point to when trying to explain to people how I write.

Ebert had only a minute interest in gaming, which led some to question whether his statements on the medium's lack of potential as an art form had any validity.

Ebert's influence on me has been an incredible one, which made the news of his death difficult to parse. It was a crushing thing to hear, but seeing the effusive outpouring of love and support for the man and his work from just about every corner of the Internet has helped tremendously. Interestingly, lots of that support has come from corners I wouldn't have even expected. I mean, of course other film critics and filmmakers would signal his death as a tragic loss for their field, but seeing the video game quotient of my various social media feeds come out in equal support was perhaps a bit surprising.

After all, Ebert's relationship to video games had always been a contentious one. He had, on multiple occasions, declared that video games would never be "art," as the highest definition of the word is generally described. That position softened a bit in the last few years, though his lack of belief in games as a true art form was never fully shaken. As recently as 2010, he was still tearing through arguments in support of video games as art, albeit with a more considerate tone that showed he was at least willing to listen, if not necessarily agree. He even eventually conceded that his "never" declaration in regards to games as art was a foolish one, though he still noted that he had never experienced a game that met his qualification for the designation, nor did he have any strong desire to touch the many games people suggested to try and convince him otherwise.

Given this, you might think some in video games would see Ebert's death as a cause for some kind of perverse celebration; ding dong the wicked witch is dead, and all of that. But outside of a few decidedly trollish posts, I haven't really seen that anywhere. If anything, the video game industry seems to be taking Ebert's death just as hard as everyone else. Especially in the realm of criticism, where many of the writers of today are of a similar age and upbringing to myself. As it turns out, I was far from alone in my regular childhood watching of Siskel & Ebert. Countless critics and players have expressed similar appreciation for Ebert's influence not just on film criticism, but all of criticism as a greater whole.

And it's not as if Ebert actively hated games. Though he rarely expressed much appreciation for them, he has written positively of the experience of playing certain games. He had previously remarked that he had begun, and then abandoned a burgeoning Nintendo addiction back in the late '80s, and most notably, he adored the old school PC adventure game Cosmology of Kyoto. Ebert, in this regard, is not terribly dissimilar to many other people I have known who grew up during his era. While video games were most certainly born out of the creative drive of men and women from his generation, precious few of them went on to consume games with the same passion that they consumed other, more familiar (to them) forms of entertainment. Those of us who grew up with gaming of course had a far easier time embracing it as a medium worth our passion.

Roger Ebert didn't grow up around games, and never really developed a passion for them later in life. As a result, he mostly avoided playing them. To his credit, he was entirely explicit about this when asked, though that does present the question of why we kept on asking him, even after he told us he wasn't really interested. Why were we so concerned with his opinion on games in the first place?

It doesn't matter that Roger Ebert never found art in video games. What matters is that his work helped teach people--myself included--how to better express our feelings and critiques toward the works that interest and resonate with us.

I'm as guilty of this as anyone. In fact, it was barely within a day of Ebert's passing this week that I found myself at the end of BioShock Infinite. I'm not going to stand here and call Infinite art, because I don't care to try and make that specific designation for much of anything, really. I don't enjoy assigning potentially narrowing terminology to things, especially terms as nebulously subjective as the A-word. But watching as Infinite wound to its mind-bending conclusion, I couldn't help but wonder what someone like Ebert might have thought of Ken Levine's writing and direction, and whether a talent such as his shows the kind of promise for artistic merit that Ebert was looking for. Of course, even if he had still been alive for me to ask him, I doubt he would have responded to the query any differently than to those who had pestered him about Shadow of the Colossus, Journey, or any other number of games that struck them personally.

In thinking about this, and seeing the outpouring of love for the man following his death, I think I understand why so many so passionately argued at him--not necessarily with him, since he rarely conversed with people publicly on the subject--about the merits of games as art. After all, isn't it always our secret hope that those we admire will admire the same things we do?

I most certainly admired Roger Ebert. He taught me more about writing purely through example than I ever learned in school, and his sheer prolificacy stands as a constant reminder that I could, and should, always be trying to write something, so long as I have something to say. I may not have always agreed with his stances, especially when it came to video games, but much as Siskel and Ebert revered each other as much as opponents as friends, I loved to read his viewpoints, even when they wildly differed from my own. He was as brilliantly thoughtful a detractor as he was a champion for the things he loved. Whether or not Ebert is ever proven right or wrong about games as art hardly matters. What matters is that he challenged video games, much as he constantly challenged movies, to do better, to be better. And for that, among many other things, I'll always be grateful.

Alex Navarro on Google+
174 Comments
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Edited by TechDJ

This one goes out to Ebert.

Edited by Hawkerace

Video games are pretty cool.

Posted by TheLawnWrangler

Pouring one out for this guy. Agree or disagree with him, much like Alex said, he had a strong, interesting voice and mind.

Posted by ZmillA

Great article. I agree with your sentiment about Ebert challenging games. By challenging them, he in some ways treated them more like a legitimate artistic medium then most game reviewers do.

It's time for more game criticism in this industry. No more baby steps. We need more people to fully embrace that approach now. Let the IGNs of the industry(well IGN) do consumer reviewers.

Edited by HubrisRanger

An excellent ode to one of the most influential voices ever in criticism of any form. I think the Siskel and Ebert dynamic, which you hint at here, is really important to keep in mind: Gene Siskel always embodied the old form of high-art criticism which approached the artifact as a source for scrutiny and dissection, whereas Ebert celebrated and spoke to the experience the film caused for him as a viewer, while still appreciating the craft of it at arm's length. He was a movie-goer first, a critic second, and always made sure the former informed the latter and had such a distinctly subjective voice that made it unquestionable that he was presenting his perspective and particular response to this film. Siskel, meanwhile, spoke from the authoritative voice of the Critic. Both are valid voices to strive for, but it always set the tone of the duo as the Elitist vs. the Populist, with Ebert being the voice of the people. His breezy writing style made that all the easier to accept and grok, and made him one of the most immediately accessible critics of this, or really any, age.

Edited by Gold_Skulltulla

nice piece, Alex

Edited by Humanity

@alex I was curious what about that brutal review tear of North made you suddenly start listening Alex? Was it that you suddenly saw that some critics were not afraid to honestly speak their mind and tear a movie to shreds without needless sugarcoating?

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Posted by rufo

One of my secret favorite accomplishments is having Roger Ebert reply to me on the subject of Steak 'n' Shake on his blog.

Thanks for everything, Roger. I didn't always agree with you, but I always respected what you had to say.

Posted by DrDarkStryfe

Roger did what very, very few from his generation of print journalism could do, adapt and thrive as technology advanced.

His ability to transition from a world where print was king to radio and television, and later to social media, is what endeared me to the man. I spent many a Saturday afternoon watching Roger and Gene talk about the movies that were coming out, wondering if those heated discussions meant they were mad at each other.

His approach towards his illness is nothing short of inspirational. Cancer took away his ability to speak, and all he did was find a way to reach a new generation in a way that inconceivable even a decade ago. I enjoyed the numerous tweets that he sent out daily; from his weekly entries to the New York Times comic contest, to contributors abroad to his blog. He was able to reach a generation that came after him and Gene were arguing on the television.

A wonderful tribute and retrospective on the most important critic of our time, Alex. Thanks for putting into words what many of us that have known the man's work all these years feel.

Edited by teekomeeko

I did love Siskel & Ebert, and at first it was for the same reasons that Alex did - watching clips from movies. My parents were the kind that thought of going to movies as pretty much pointless, and also felt most of them were also pure evil. I literally went to the theater once before I was sixteen, and that was a school trip.

After a while, I watched the show as much to hear intelligent criticisms from obvious lovers of an art as for the clips , especially Ebert. It was like hearing someone who happened to memorize all of history talk about a current event, but do so in a way that even a child could understand.

On occasion I write something and still think "how would Ebert phrase this so it's easy to digest?" I have several other role models for writing nowadays, and ones that fit my style and purpose better, but Roger Ebert was the first and, therefore, will stay one of the most important.

Edited by Deathpooky

His writing on games was annoying because of his lack of understanding and unwillingness to learn more about them to back up his statements, but he somewhat realized this later after the backlash from people who know stuff about games. Indeed, his obtuseness on games was surprising given how readily he adapted to changing media in his own work.

Regardless, still a very big loss, even if he was out of step with modern games. Ebert is probably the king of all mediums when it comes to critical writing. I love books, movies, TV, and games, but as much as I'm a fan of writers in other areas, nobody stacked up to Ebert.

Edited by sravankb

I'm gonna get hated for this - but hear me out.

I agree with Ebert's statement on games. They are not art. Or at least not yet.

Every example of games being artistic consist of some form of non-interactivity. It is never the interactivity itself that makes it artistic. Whether it is the music, theme, visuals, etc., games happen to have art, rather than presenting that art through gameplay, which is the one thing that makes gaming unique. A prime example is Braid - the message about nuclear war was there, but it was never presented through the way I played the game. It may have as well been shown as a painting / short animation, etc. Don't get me wrong; I love Braid. It's one of my favorite games of all time, but I can definitely say that it was pretentious as all hell.

And that's the issue with gaming - gameplay and story / theme are separated with a 10-foot thick lead wall. They are never presented as a single package. So yeah, while I can see that games have art in them, it is not presented in a way that makes it any different from other forms of media.

Edited by csl316

Loved Roger Ebert. From the time I was a kid, to the time spent at my college newspaper, to his more recent endeavors into social media. He always seemed to post something interesting in recent years. Despite his body giving out on him, he still remained witty and straightforward and as active as ever. That's why his blog two days before his death, which outlined all the stuff he still wanted to do, brought a tear to my eye.

He had such an inviting style to his writing that it honestly didn't matter what the subject was. His stuff was always a joy to read (hell, much like Alex's writing). Rest in peace.

Edited by joetom

As much as I understand his contributions to the credibility of film criticism, I still don't think Ebert was ever that great of a critic. He gave movies poor reviews because he had issues with the morals they represented (notably A Clockwork Orange) which is beyond stupid. Movie reviews are about how good the film is, not whether you where offended or not.

If you want to explain that the film offended you, and as such, you can't give an accurate read on it, fine, but don't call it a bad movie because it upset you. That's childish.

Also, anyone who tries to define what is and isn't art is pretentious. Art is anything that expresses human creativity, and no one gets to refuse that label to something because they don't think it's good enough. To do so is narrow minded, and to refusing to listen to arguments while claiming you're right is even more narrow minded.

I'm not trying to say his death isn't significant and that he wasn't important, but I wish people would stop acting like he represented all that is good about criticism, because I never thought he was a particularly great one.

Posted by SirOptimusPrime

Totally disagree, in nearly every way, with the man and his ear-plugging about video games but this was awful. He was staunch on the points he considered worth being stubborn about and that's good enough for me to respect him.

Edited by Cheesebob

Roger Ebert was a fantastic critic and a great journalist as a whole. He will be sorely missed

Posted by Jackhole

Alex is the Roger Ebert of shitty video games

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Edited by DerekDanahy

Enjoyed your article Alex

Edited by depecheload

@joetom said:

As much as I understand his contributions to the credibility of film criticism, I still don't think Ebert was ever that great of a critic. He gave movies poor reviews because he had issues with the morals they represented (notably A Clockwork Orange) which is beyond stupid. Movie reviews are about how good the film is, not whether you where offended or not.

If you want to explain that the film offended you, and as such, you can't give an accurate read on it, fine, but don't call it a bad movie because it upset you. That's childish.

Also, anyone who tries to define what is and isn't art is pretentious. Art is anything that expresses human creativity, and no one gets to refuse that label to something because they don't think it's good enough. To do so is narrow minded, and to refusing to listen to arguments while claiming you're right is even more narrow minded.

I'm not trying to say his death isn't significant and that he wasn't important, but I wish people would stop acting like he represented all that is good about criticism, because I never thought he was a particularly great one.

Bullshit. A critic/reviewer judges a piece of work based on how it makes them feel. If a movie offended you, then you have every right to think it's a bad movie. Cuz that's what opinions are.

Edited by Deathpooky

@sravankb said:

And that's the issue with gaming - gameplay and story / theme are separated with a 10-foot thick lead wall. They are never presented as a single package. So yeah, while I can see that games have art in them, it is not presented in a way that makes it any different from other forms of media.

This may be true for many games people point to - in the Bioshock games the FPS is really just a vehicle to get you through the story/world - but I don't think that's true for everything. Shadow of the Colossus and Journey both had gameplay that worked with the overall story and theme to form a cohesive whole.

Posted by Winternet

He really liked Antichrist so I guess he wasn't so bad.

Posted by Oginam

@sravankb: I like to think video games are interactive systems + art, not "interactive art". That was I don't have to think about what "art" actually is, which is an even more difficult question to answer (in some manner that isn't extremely subjective or qualified).

Edited by gbrading

Disagreed with most things Roger Ebert said, but his influence and skill were unmatched. He will be missed.

Edited by takua108

@joetom said:

As much as I understand his contributions to the credibility of film criticism, I still don't think Ebert was ever that great of a critic. He gave movies poor reviews because he had issues with the morals they represented (notably A Clockwork Orange) which is beyond stupid. Movie reviews are about how good the film is, not whether you where offended or not.

If you want to explain that the film offended you, and as such, you can't give an accurate read on it, fine, but don't call it a bad movie because it upset you. That's childish.

Also, anyone who tries to define what is and isn't art is pretentious. Art is anything that expresses human creativity, and no one gets to refuse that label to something because they don't think it's good enough. To do so is narrow minded, and to refusing to listen to arguments while claiming you're right is even more narrow minded.

I'm not trying to say his death isn't significant and that he wasn't important, but I wish people would stop acting like he represented all that is good about criticism, because I never thought he was a particularly great one.

I haven't read that particular review, but... doesn't this just go back to the idea of Giant Bomb's current reviews versus the old Gamespot reviews? Like, it's less about whether a thing is "objectively" good or bad, and more of whether or not you found it enjoyable to experience? If I played, like, Modern Warfare 3 (which I haven't), and was offended by the politics in it (which I probably wouldn't be), would it be unfair for me to bring that up in a review?

Posted by abomunist

Video games are not art and can't be. From a perspective of a narrative, maybe? But a great work of art?

Art.

Art.

Art.

Art.

Art.

Art.

Art?

Anyway. Dumb argument.

Roger Ebert was a kind and talented individual. He made a profound impact on me. He was the genesis of my critical voice. He showed me the power of the movies and judged things by explaining exactly how he perceived them.

It's a loss. A big one.

Art.

Edited by Torrim

Just throwing this out there, but I think one of the key differences between film criticism and games criticism is that with gaming, much of the review comes from perceived value often from a $60 price tag. In that regard, critics seem more obligated to shy away from a personal reaction and edge closer to this objective value argument. Sometimes this goes so far as to try and project enjoyment to a certain group of people with a specific interest in said genre, and why certain establishments will have a sports reviewer and one who is solely dedicated to the billion Naruto games. Does the value reach its target audience?

Movies, on the other hand, while still defined by genre, are less limited in appeal. The same reviewer can be just as authoritative on a rom-com than he can suspense or horror.

I think with the advent of games that shatter the notion of a flat full price for every game, we're left with more flexible criticism that will, hopefully, catch up. But then again, maybe it's movies that will shift, considering $60 at the theater isn't unheard of.

Edited by Sweetz

@sravankb said:

And that's the issue with gaming - gameplay and story / theme are separated with a 10-foot thick lead wall. They are never presented as a single package. So yeah, while I can see that games have art in them, it is not presented in a way that makes it any different from other forms of media.

This may be true for many games people point to - in the Bioshock games the FPS is really just a vehicle to get you through the story/world - but I don't think that's true for everything. Shadow of the Colossus and Journey both had gameplay that worked with the overall story and theme to form a cohesive whole.

This. Journey specifically is a game where the interactivity is paramount to the experience to the emotions it elicits. It would be the one game, especially due to it's brevity and approachability for a non-gamer, that I think any naysayer should play.

Edited by BigD145
Edited by lord_python

Alex thank you for participating in this mass grieving thats happening all over the internet. I think it helps all of us get over this most unusually impactful death. You said everything i wanted to say including the writing inspiration but excluding the inspirational human being part and his politics. From a games journo it makes it extra special.I do wonder if Ebert knew of his impact of games criticism though. I do hope he didn't see the gaming world as his main detractors in the later parts of his life because i dont think it is so. Your thought that we cared so much because of our respect for him rings so true in my mind.

Posted by Redhorn

I loved Roger Ebert. Sad to see him go.

Posted by langdon_alger

well said alex.

Posted by Little_Socrates

@sravankb: You really need to play Persona 4, then. That game is the definitive modern thought experiment on implementing mechanics into storytelling. Other games have similar concepts in implementation; notably, Extra Credits did an excellent episode on artistry and thematic content in Missile Command's mechanics.

Anyways, Roger Ebert's death greatly moved me. It really did not occur to me how much his presence and work defined my passion for media analysis and criticism.

Edited by lord_python

And yeah i think its such a crushing blow because we all felt we knew him because of his clear plain spoken voice, that was so integral to our movie going experience (to me anyways). Along with his super personal and inspiring blog about his life with illness it felt like we had lost a friend.

Posted by jakkblades

I loved Ebert deeply. He was a real inspiration. He had an art all his own.

Posted by RonGalaxy

I disagree and feel Siskel was the better of the two, but that doesn't diminish what he has done for critical thinking/discussion. The fact that he lost his voice was such a cruel tragedy. Anyway, great read!

Posted by Rustafur

Alex, you're so much easier to take in when you're not sitting on a PAX panel, trying to scream over top of everyone. I know this probably means exactly jack shit coming from a single GB poster, but excellent piece man. Well done.

Edited by sjswhite

Great article. Part of me has always wondered why we even care if video games are considered "art." People discuss them and dissect them on a routine basis as if they were.... but for some reason, the gaming community at large seems as thought it will not be content until it gets the "art" endorsement from another medium. Part of me wonders if Ebert was just tired of fielding the question and was just trolling gamers...

Nevertheless, it's cool to see another critic of any type pay tribute to Ebert, who really helped define what modern criticism is, exactly (whether of art or anything else).

Posted by Voysa_Reezun

First of all, I love Ebert's criticism and his interviews with actors (like the ones in Awake in the Dark).

Re: His stance on video games as art. I loved the conversation because, even though he was demonstrably wrong about every tenet he used to define "art" (and even trying to define it beyond a dictionary definition is a nebulous act), he at least forced gamers to think about what artistic merit means and how video games can display such merit.

One of the things that I think video games need desperately are critics like Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, Wesley Morris, etc. We don't have a well-defined framework for criticism of the narrative elements that show up in games, and we have even less of a framework for criticism of the play elements in regards to how they enhance the artistry of the narrative itself (though critics are good at explaining how the elements are well- or poorly-made based on how fluid they make the act of gameplay itself).

In fact, I think if we can nail down a valid form of video game criticism that isn't based on big companies buying positive reviews with ad space and that has agreed-upon criteria (maybe part of the review on the architecture of the game - the mechanics - as well as the narrative development of the game), that would go a long way toward "legitimizing," for lack of a better word, games as an art form.

Which brings me back around to Giant Bomb, a site set up precisely to start doing that sort of thing for games. Y'all are doing good work here in the nascent game-crit-as-academically-sound business.

Posted by fiberpay

@joetom said:

As much as I understand his contributions to the credibility of film criticism, I still don't think Ebert was ever that great of a critic. He gave movies poor reviews because he had issues with the morals they represented (notably A Clockwork Orange) which is beyond stupid. Movie reviews are about how good the film is, not whether you where offended or not.

If you want to explain that the film offended you, and as such, you can't give an accurate read on it, fine, but don't call it a bad movie because it upset you. That's childish.

Also, anyone who tries to define what is and isn't art is pretentious. Art is anything that expresses human creativity, and no one gets to refuse that label to something because they don't think it's good enough. To do so is narrow minded, and to refusing to listen to arguments while claiming you're right is even more narrow minded.

I'm not trying to say his death isn't significant and that he wasn't important, but I wish people would stop acting like he represented all that is good about criticism, because I never thought he was a particularly great one.

I agree with you 100%.

Posted by Hailinel

Ebert was a talented writer and an entertaining film critic, though I feel his views on video games were well off the mark and he was far too liberal with spoilers in his text.

Posted by Tireyo

It's a shame that he passed... Regardless of his accomplishments and whatnot though, I still don't like him.

Posted by fiberpay

@joetom said:

As much as I understand his contributions to the credibility of film criticism, I still don't think Ebert was ever that great of a critic. He gave movies poor reviews because he had issues with the morals they represented (notably A Clockwork Orange) which is beyond stupid. Movie reviews are about how good the film is, not whether you where offended or not.

If you want to explain that the film offended you, and as such, you can't give an accurate read on it, fine, but don't call it a bad movie because it upset you. That's childish.

Also, anyone who tries to define what is and isn't art is pretentious. Art is anything that expresses human creativity, and no one gets to refuse that label to something because they don't think it's good enough. To do so is narrow minded, and to refusing to listen to arguments while claiming you're right is even more narrow minded.

I'm not trying to say his death isn't significant and that he wasn't important, but I wish people would stop acting like he represented all that is good about criticism, because I never thought he was a particularly great one.

Bullshit. A critic/reviewer judges a piece of work based on how it makes them feel. If a movie offended you, then you have every right to think it's a bad movie. Cuz that's what opinions are.

A good critic/reviewer can do both. A good critic can be offended by a movie and point that out in the review but also able to understand why someone might like it. Ebert could not. That shortsightedness also effected him when it came to the "games as art" discussion. He could only see things one way, his way. As an art major I will never respect a man who dismisses anyone's creative work, be it video games or a crappy painting on a fridge that a little kid drew.

Posted by Toug

There's a lesson here, right? If we can all try and give even a fraction as much of shit about games as Ebert gave about movies, we'll be okay.

Posted by Cold_Wolven

Great article Alex, now I have a somewhat understanding why your low score reviews have a bit of snark to them and I enjoy them all the more for it.

Posted by Trilogy

I always thought Ebert was full of bullshit with the whole art thing. He opened his mouth on something he couldn't articulate or argue in any meaningful way. How could he when he lacked the knowledge or experience on the subject? Not to mention I've never really valued movie criticism as much as I do video game criticism. I'm not saying movie critics have zero value as they certainly trump the very real uselessness of music criticism (why do I need anyone to tell me if a two minute song that I can listen to on youtube is any good or not?). Movie criticism does holds more value than that. It's just too bad most critics are so far up their own asses.

That being said, it is a big loss to the criticism industry. Ebert influenced a lot of people, and it always hurts to lose a mentor.

Interesting piece, Alex.

Edited by DocWattson

When I was in High School I read a story I liked a lot. The next week I had a creative writing assignment and I basically used the first paragraph of the story I liked a lot. THe rest of the story was mine, but the first paragraph wasn't. I then twist and turned that first paragraph to try and make it my own but I still knew it wasn't. I don't know what made me do it but for some reason I E-mailed Roger Ebert his opinion on plagiarism and if I was in fact plagiarizing. He replied to me the same day with this,

"The real question is not what I think, but what an employer would

think. If you take someone else's words and present them as your own,

that is plagiarism.

Certainly sometimes it happens unconsciously, and on other occasions

more than one person hits on the same way to express the same idea:

Puns on movie titles tend to turn up in several reviews, for example,

probably none of them plagiarized. The only policy for a professional

writer (or real student) is to never ever consciously plagiarize in

any way.

Best,

RE"

Wow, I thought that was so cool. Roger Ebert actually replied to me! This was way before social media, when people with public prominence could, or even are expected, to interact with the public. I was just a teenager in the 90s with a random question and took the time to answer me. I was a huge fan of his before that, but I became one of his biggest fans for life after that.

The very first movie I worked on was an indie called High Art. I was so stoked when Siskel and Ebert reviewed in on their show. I felt like I had really made it in the business. It respect I hadn't, and I am not sure if anyone every really makes it in the movie business since we can all be looking for a new line of work the next day, but to that high hoped 20 something year old that was it, I had the movie I worked so hard on reviewed by Siskel and Ebert.

The greatest movie review I ever read was Roger Ebert's review of the movie Torque. It basically started out, "Why am I reviewing this movie, does it matter if I like it? People who are going to go see Torque are going to go see Torque." He then went into how the B movie and the A movie had swapped places over the years. The B movie, the Swamp Thing, the drive in movie, was the low budget movie and the A movie like Gone with the Wind packed the audience in, but the late 70s had changed that and in current cinema the B movie had the big budget and teh crowds and the A movie was an indie in a small theater. It was fascinating but the part that made it amazing is by the end of the review you realized he somehow gave you his review of the movie Torque somewhere in there. Even rereading it you don't know where he did it, but by the end of that "review" you knew exactly what he thought about the movie Torque. The review was educational, it was fun, it was honest, and it was surprising. Its not just the best review I ever read, its one of the best things I've ever read.

Over the years I've traded a few E-mails with Ebert. Not many, at most ten, but they all meant a lot to me. He is one of the major reasons I grew up loving film. He's gone now but he lead a full life and influenced many, including myself. RIP Ebert, you had a good ride.

Posted by CitizenCoffeeCake

@joetom said:

I'm not trying to say his death isn't significant and that he wasn't important, but I wish people would stop acting like he represented all that is good about criticism, because I never thought he was a particularly great one.

He gave Anaconda 3 and 1/2 stars (that is out of 4). I agree the man was a prolific critic and made a big impact on the world of movies but he was not infallible.

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