Roger Ebert is dead.
A huge part of me has accepted the news and is happy that Ebert’s suffering is finished forever and the legacy he left behind will sustain his memory in the minds of his most ardent followers and many more still to discover his unique body of work for generations to come. But in my heart I still can’t believe it has happened.
“Who are Siskel and Ebert?,” I wondered as a child after seeing a television spot for an upcoming movie, the name of which escapes me now, “and why do they always say ‘Two Thumbs Up’?” There was a time when I needed no critical encouragement to see a movie that had already captured my youthful imagination. If I wanted to see Back to the Future Part II or Dick Tracy I was going to pester my parents until they either sent me to my room or caved under the pressure to take me to see those films, regardless of what the critics happened to think of them. In those days the only critics I trusted were my friends and classmates at school; that’s usually where the best word of mouth could be spread amongst us kids.
I had seen a few episodes of Siskel & Ebert At the Movies, usually in brief increments, in my youth but cared little for them. Back then I had not yet developed the healthy interest in cinema that I have today. Movies were a very moderate part of my life, as they are now in a sense, because there was so much else going on that I had precious little time for them. Until my late grandmother Betty first got cable television and HBO with it, the only times I would get to see movies were during the sporadic occasions when my family would check out the latest popular family feature or on the weekends when my mother would take my brother, sister, and me to our neighborhood video store and rent a few titles along with one of those old school top-loader VCRs.
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