How Roger Ebert Made Me a Better Writer
When I had a heart attack in October 2011, an event brought on mostly by my unfortunate lifestyle decisions, my brain was deprived of oxygen for about 15 minutes. All I wanted to do when I came to, several days later, was read.
I couldn't. In the hospital, friends and family members brought me numerous books, issues of Rolling Stone, plus copies of The New York Times and even the Houston Chronicle. (Yes, the Press too.)
The words swam around on the page. I knew what they meant individually, most of them, but following them one after another all the way to the end of a sentence, and then another one, I just wasn't up to. Not being able to comprehend what I was reading was more frustrating than not being allowed to use the bathroom under my own power, moreso even than the slowly dawning -- and completely bone-chilling -- realization of not only what had just happened to me, but what had just almost happened to me.
The results of the neurological and neuropsychological exams I underwent at the hospital were no more encouraging, and for days I still couldn't understand much of what I read. Eventually I went home.
At some point early in my convalescence, I started reading a couple of Roger Ebert's books that surely came to my parents' house through the Half Price Books in Clear Lake, and came to rest on top of the toilet. Sitting on the family throne, my real recovery began.
If memory serves, and it might not, there was a horribly dog-eared copy of Ebert's Bigger Little Movie Glossary on there. Your Movie Sucks, which takes its title from the review Ebert wrote for Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, sits there to this very day. The three months or so I was recovering at my parents' house in Friendswood, I read those books a lot.
As you might guess from the title of Your Movie Sucks, one of the things that made Ebert such a wonderful writer and critic was how direct he could be. Far too many of his colleagues in the so-called critical media -- those who review movies or albums or concerts or paintings or whatever -- take their position as an official reviewer either as a license to lord their knowledge over their audience, or shamelessly attempt to ingratiate themselves with the people who make the art they are supposed to be evaluating.
Either approach may be passed off as such, but it's not criticism. It's snobbery or plain and simple ass-kissing. Ebert did it right. He never wrote down to his readers, and he certainly never kissed a Hollywood ass just to make an actor or producer somewhere like him. (Ask Rob Schneider, who wound up sending Ebert flowers after one of his early cancer surgeries.)