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Whether he was writing about Chicago’s divine architecture, a letter to Kermit the Frog, or about his health troubles, Roger Ebert was eloquent and thoughtful. His death has stunned many of us, especially moviegoers who grew up watching him on TV and reading his reviews. He was one of those pop culture people who was a part of our lives in one way or another.
When I worked for one of his publishers, The University of Chicago Press, he stopped in one day with his wife, Chaz, to talk with the staff. He was very funny, and optimistic, even as he was in the midst of rigorous treatment to battle his illness. It was gracious of him and most of us were in awe, delighted to see him up and about. That seemed to be the way he lived his whole life: always busy and curious about the world, no matter what.
If you’d like to learn more about Roger Ebert, he left behind a large body of work. Much of it can be found online, at his website RogerEbert.com, and at the library, where we’ve collected his books over the years.
In 2011, he published his autobiography, Life Itself: A Memoir (also available on Book on CD, eAudiobook, and large print). You can read a lovely excerpt he wrote about his wife, Chaz. He wrote a cookbook of sorts, a few years ago, called The Pot And How To Use It : The Mystery And Romance Of The Rice Cooker. I like to imagine it helped out a lot of college students and people with kitchenettes. Since I read it I’ve cooked all kinds of things in my rice cooker. You can read a blog post I wrote about it when it first came out.
Cliffhanger of a Novel
Are you surprised to learn he also wrote fiction for a bit? His novel, Behind the Phantom’s Mask, is a mystery in the vein of Victorian writer Wilkie Collins and was published in serial format for newspapers all over the world. Naturally, it was full of cliffhangers and suspense.
Of course, he wrote a ton of books about movies. He wrote about Scorsese, both the man and each of his feature films. A collection, Awake In The Dark : The Best Of Roger Ebert : Forty Years Of Reviews, Essays, And Interviews, may be a good place to start for an overview of his career. Other general film collections include Roger Ebert’s Book of Film, A Kiss is Still a Kiss, and Questions for the Movie Answer Man.
A bad movie can be just as fun to talk about as it is painful to watch. Ebert skewered many films and even published collections of particularly atrocious finds: Ebert's Little Movie Glossary : A Compendium Of Movie Cliches, Stereotypes, Obligatory Scenes, Hackneyed Formulas, Shopworn Conventions, And Outdated Archetypes, Your Movie Sucks, and A Horrible Experience Of Unbearable Length: More Movies that Suck.
When Ebert liked something, he could pinpoint exactly what he admired and could write beautifully about it. One of my favorite reviews is of Pale Flower, a Japanese crime film. When I read his take on it, I thought “Yes, exactly.” His collected writing can be found in The Great Movies, The Great Movies II, and The Great Movies: III. There’s also Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook and Roger Ebert's Four-star Reviews 1967-2007.
Top 10 Movies of All Time
What were Ebert’s top 10 of all time? Last year he came up with a list, and his reasons why, which you can read about on his blog. The titles of the ten films are listed below.
- Aguirre, Wrath of God (Herzog)
- Apocalypse Now (Coppola)
- Citizen Kane (Welles)
- La Dolce Vita (Fellini)
- The General (Keaton)
- Raging Bull (Scorsese)
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick)
- Tokyo Story (Ozu)
- The Tree of Life (Malick)
- Vertigo (Hitchcock)
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Karen Choy is the Youth Services Librarian in Half Moon Bay.