“Leave Of Presence”

Let it never be said that Roger Ebert isn’t a brave and classy fellow who knows how to negotiate the ups and downs of life and play whatever cards he’s been dealt like Steve McQueen in The Cincinatti Kid. Always be doing, always be closing, always the task at hand…work, engagement, up and at ’em.

The venerated critic announced yesterday that he’ll be cutting back on his reviews (which will mean…what, 100 or 125 more reviews over the next nine months considering that he wrote 306 last year?) because his cancer has recurred and he has to adapt and do the best he can.

Which is a pretty good deal in a certain sense. “I’ll be able at last to do what I’ve always fantasized about doing,” Ebert wrote on his website, “[which is] reviewing only the movies I want to review.” Which means only the prime-cut films and then only the ones he really loves or hates. Which is pretty much how I play it, come to think.

I recognize, however, that you can’t be too picky and choosy (which is what I’ve been telling my friend and colleague Sasha Stone all along). You have to routinely submit to the smell of shit in order to fully appreciate the really fine bouquets. “80% of everything is crap” and “taste is a result of a thousand distastes.” — Francois Truffaut.

Ebert also announced that he’ll be buying Rogerebert.com from the Chicago Sun-Times and relaunch the site.

“And I continue to cooperate with the talented filmmaker Steve James on the bio-documentary he, Steve Zaillian and Martin Scorsese are making about my life,” Ebert wrote. “I am humbled that anyone would even think to do it, but I am also grateful.

“At this point in my life, in addition to writing about movies, I may write about what it’s like to cope with health challenges and the limitations they can force upon you,” Ebert wrote. “It really stinks that the cancer has returned and that I have spent too many days in the hospital. So on bad days I may write about the vulnerability that accompanies illness. On good days, I may wax ecstatic about a movie so good it transports me beyond illness.”

As always, Ebertfest will continue at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Ebert is also launching a Kickstarter campaign to bring At the Movies back to television. Oh, come on! That dog won’t hunt any more.

  • Listen, I love Ebert as much as the next guy – he’s been a major influence on my love and discovery of countless great movies. But hasn’t the hyperbole surrounding him gotten a little out of hand? I mean, he’s a terrific writer, a good critic and, by all accounts, a good guy, but it’s not like he liberated the Jews or defeated slavery or anything. Judging from some of the Twitter comments (and comments on his blog post) you’d think the guy cured cancer vs. being diagnosed with it.

    That said, I wish him well and hope he recovers.

    • D.Z.

      His appeal lies in the fact that he’s an icon of a bygone era.

  • “Hard-working,” “savvy,” “knowledgeable,” “informed,” are all pretty easy adjectives to describe lots of culture critics on the scene. But “truly heroic” only applies to one that I know of. All the best wishes for a speedy recovery from everyone who’s ever enjoyed his words and/or or met Mr. Ebert!

  • Raising_Kaned

    “Cincinnati,” not “Cincinatti”…fairly common mistake, though.

    100 films a year actually seems about right if I were a critic (not including early festival releases/curios or whatever) — that’s almost two a week! I already see right around 75 every year, and I see almost everything I really want to.

    The Truffaut quote makes sense, but you always have to watch out for the burnout factor, too — I can’t imagine watching 250-300 movies (new ones, anyway…I never count revisiting my favorites) and retaining my will to live, let alone my passion for cinema in general.

    I’m sure Sasha’s probably on the other end of the spectrum, though — how many flicks does she average per year? Is it even north of 25-30? Serious question, actually.

  • D.Z.

    Cancer’s such a cunt. It’s not enough that it took Siskel. It also had to go after Roger, as well.