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Saturday, April 6, 2013
When something simple completely changes your life, you tend to remember it well. For me one of those shifts occurred on a Saturday evening in the summer of 1981, just before sunset.
Look into my flashback a sec and see me at age 11: Flipping channels on my parents’ old Zenith TV, searching for “Kung Fu” and finding a scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Now this was huge then because a) I was a rabid fan of “Raiders,” which b) was still in theaters, and c) movie clips weren’t everywhere then, especially d) not on the PBS station. What was this?
The scene ended and two guys in theater seats started discussing the movie. They made a somewhat nerdy duo, very interrupt-y, but most crucially it seemed they’d enjoyed “Raiders” every bit as much as I had.
That was my intro to Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, on a show called “Sneak Previews.” Across the 1980s, I watched as they covered every movie that came to town, but how they really changed my life was by frequently bringing up fringe films I never would’ve encountered.
Through Siskel and Ebert, I became aware of the existential travelogue “Koyaanisqatsi”; of “My Dinner with Andre,” a chronicle of a single conversation; of the 15-hour German epic “Berlin Alexanderplatz.” See also: “Diner,” “Diva,” “Birdy,” “Barfly,” “Blood Simple,” “Local Hero” and on and on.
I watched Siskel and Ebert to hear about Spielberg and Lucas, but along the way I discovered David Lynch, Werner Herzog, John Sayles and others I’m still a fan of today. Fueled by those two snarky Chicago film buffs, my mind (and my top-loading VCR) reeled.
Roger Ebert died of cancer Thursday. The disease had already left him disfigured and mute, but that seemed only to strengthen his spirit and textual voice. During his illness, he wrote: “I believe that if, at the end, 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.”
From his reviews, I suspect Ebert made himself happier. I’m fairly certain he made many others happier. I know he made me happier. By his own gauge, I would say, he did about the best he could do.
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