Friday, July 11, 2014

Life Itself, Life Elsewhere

I did not grow up with Elbert and Siskel, or have many a formative memory about discovering how love for film, or for a film, could be articulated to others. There was no informal education imparted to me by his criticism and yet, when news of Roger Ebert's death reached me last year, I quickly felt a little swish of emptiness and regret that his voice and project, so clear and encompassing, would just lose its place in present discourse. That, when people talked about movies, they would nevermore be as clear, personal, engaged and humble as Ebert could be when at his best, even when you disagreed with him. I feared that film criticism would suddenly turn into a circus of loud bickering on numbers, name checking, economic deals and technical form.

What one forgets is how influential Ebert really was, and I suspect one forgets because he didn't make it a central point of his career to give his readers a concrete idealization of what film should be and the direction it should take. He was both more humble and more ambitious than that. Instead of rummaging philosophical to answer the question 'what is film?' he wanted to understand what film, as an art form, tries to do, and understood that to have a critical conversation about a film that impresses our mind and heart was to ultimately have a critical conversation about our life, about what lies outside the film and stays with the audience.