Friday, February 19, 2010

My Last Memory of Roger Ebert

I felt more compelled to write this entry after reading a recent article in Esquire on Roger Ebert. The article details aspects of Roger Ebert's life after losing his lower jaw to cancer and thus being rendered unable to speak, eat, or drink. The article was so graphic and depressing at times it almost made me cry, but it was also a strangely uplifting tale, detailing how Ebert has emerged from his cancer with good humor and into one of the most productive and inspired writing periods of his life.

Before moving to Winston, I lived in Champaign, IL for several years, and Roger Ebert would bring in about a dozen shows a year to his own annual film festival (The "Rober Ebert Overlooked Film Festival"). I probably caught three or so a year. I remember Roger Ebert would introduce and then debrief every movie there and tell us why he loved them -- that was actually the first place I saw Junebug, which is now my favorite movie of all time. (And takes place in Winston-Salem no less. Weird.)

The last year I was in Champaign was also the year that Ebert lost his jaw to cancer. After years of introducing every movie, Ebert hadn't introduced any of them that year... he instead quietly sat in the back of the theater in a special Laz-Z-Boy chair set up for him, and watched as many movies as he had energy for. I think that everyone there thought that would probably be Roger's last Ebertfest.

My last memory of Ebert was when they showed "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" that year. The movie was chosen to close the festival, and bizarrely it was actually largely written by Roger Ebert. To everyone's amazement, he actually introduced that movie, and when he took the stage, his face looked something like a fish pulled out from deep sea, with buggy eyes, and puffy lips, and his neck was wrapped in a thick bandaged cast. But he also looked very happy to be there.

Since Ebert couldn't talk, he brought a laptop up with him, hooked it up to some electronic equipment, and pushed play. Out came an electronic voice that said "Hi, my name is Hal. You might remember me from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. And today, I will be serving as the voice of Roger Ebert..."

Watching that film that day was one of the most memorable movie experiences I've ever had. Ebert's movie was full of random acts of violence, transvestites, and yes, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It was hilarious and unexpected. When the movie ended, everyone stood to their feet and gave Ebert a standing ovation that lasted at least five minutes.

That day it struck me that Roger Ebert was really more than the guy who doled out thumbs up and down on Saturday every week as I was growing up -- he was a creative man who loved life deeply and desired to share that love with others through his writing. I hope that he has many years yet to share his gifts.

Back Baby

This is why I won't apologize for my leave of absence:

Above pilfered from

Of course, I took Spanish, not French in High School, so the above would hardly apply anyway.

On a completely unrelated note, I think Doodles is currently illustrating a dream of mine. More later...