Thank you, Roger Ebert!! – by JoBlo

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

It’s hard for me to know where to start with this, so I’ll start from the

As a teenager, I loved movies. Loved going to
the movies, loved watching movies at home, love talking
about movies with friends. And yes, if there was one TV show that I would
not miss out during those years, it was “At
the Movies
”, better known around my house as “Siskel & Ebert”. Back
then, there was no such thing as the “internet”, and since my local
Montreal newspaper film critics were pretty pretentious (for a teenager
like me), I always enjoyed watching Siskel & Ebert because I got some cool
insight into films that hadn’t come out yet or were just being released.
Now despite both men not being in my demographic, they were always able to
articulate the good points and bad points about any film, without talking
down to their audience. Granted, their

“best shows” were probably the ones in which they’d debate a film heavily
that was also a part of the greatness of their show (I should also mention
that their many appearances on “The Tonight Show” were also very fun to
watch). It must say something that their show lasted for over 25 years,
yet no other film critic show has ever even gotten close!

By 1996,
I followed one my of my business teachers’ advice and tried to “do what I
love” and started writing film reviews for my M.B.A. newspaper, just for
fun. When my fellow students appreciated those reviews, and this thing
called the “internet” popped up around that time, I decided to open a
website of my own (just for fun, of course), call it (a “Joe
Blow” – your everyday guy point of view), just until I found a “real job”
in the “real world”.

In 1999, Roger Ebert’s partner on the show,
Gene Siskel,
passed away and by then, I had actually conversed with Roger a couple of
times via email, just shooting the breeze. Anyone who has ever met him
will tell you that Roger was just that sort of fella. He loved talking
about movies and was always very approachable and real. He was always very
encouraging to me and when I semi-jokingly told him that it would be
“cool” if I were his guest co-host one week (at the time, they were going
through a variety of different co-hosts), surprised was I that not
did he write me back with a positive response, but he also
included his producer’s name and address, and told me to “send in a tape”
and that I’d be considered (!!). Blown away was I.

WTF?!? Here I
was, some shmuck from Montreal Canada, just a plain ol’ “movie fan” (in 
his 20s!) and the great Pulitzer-prize winning Roger Ebert
thought that I might be considered for his show?! Unbelievable. I was
giddy with excitement and seeing as one of my favorite films of all-time
had come out around that time (FIGHT
), I decided to focus my “audition tape” on that film, especially
since Ebert himself had semi-dismissed the film in

his own review
. I’m going to

link to my audition tape
in this article because maybe it will serve
others on how not to audition
for a TV show (hehehe), but needless to say, I was just excited to be
considered and still have their “rejection letter” in my office.

BTW, a couple of years ago I sent Roger the link to that video and he
asked me
if he could “Twitter
it out of his account, because it might get our site some “extra hits”.
That’s just the kind of man he was. Classy. He also said “…I give you
thumbs up on your lighting there.” Must’ve been those cheesy Halloween
pumpkin lights in the background. Doh! Always loved his humor.

By 2004, I was attending the Cannes Film Festival for the first time, all
by myself. I knew nothing about film festivals or France, although I did
speak French. Knowing that Roger was going to be there, I thought it might
be a good way to finally meet him face-to-face, and conduct an interview
with him at the same time, since I knew that plenty of folks on our site
were also big fans of his. I never expected him to even have the time to
read/respond to my email, since I’d heard that he was one of those critics
who would see about 3-5 movies/day over there, but as per his usual style,
he responded asap and we spend the next few days going back and forth,
arranging our meeting.

When we did finally meet at the American Pavillion, Roger showed up with
his wife Chaz, who I’d never met before, and was completely laid back,
despite my uber-anxiety around him. I could see that he could sense my
nervousness and he quickly calmed me down with some nice words about my
site and my reviews. That would have been enough for me, of course, but he
spent the next 60+ minutes with me, chatting me up about the Festival and
answering all of my goofy questions. Thankfully we still have that
interview on the site, and you can read it in its entirety

What’s “funny” is that his wife was sitting next to us the whole time,
just listening and waiting attentively, but I could sense that after
around half an hour, she was getting a little bored, but instead of asking
Roger to leave or something along those lines, she simply “excused
herself’ which left Roger and I alone for another little while. I was
embarrassed but Roger just wanted to talk movies and give this newbie some
lifelong advice.

Later on during the Festival, I was invited to
some “star-studded” shindig all by my lonesome. I may have even showed up
with my back-pack…oy-vey. I remember simply hanging back, just hoping
nobody would see me or ask me to leave, until I saw Roger and his wife
walking around the party as well. At some point, we walked by each other
and despite him engaging others in a conversation, he noticed me from the
side of his eye, gave me that “Hey look at you at this fancy party!
look, smiled and after that, a sense of “calm” and acceptance reigned over
me during the rest of the festival. If Roger f*ckin’ Ebert thinks I
belong at this place, then gosh darnit, so should I!
My confidence
started to grow.

To this day, I consider our Cannes meeting as one
of the coolest things to happen to me via this website.

picture was Roger’s idea. He thought it would look better if we took the
pic that looked like “dueling critics”. He was right.

By the mid-2000s, Roger had started his fight against cancer and I too
started running into health issues of my own. Mine were not as dire as
Roger’s, but they were debilitating to the point that I could no longer go
to watch movies in movie theaters. By 2006,
I was forced to hire someone to replace myself on the site

(took me forever to make that decision, as I felt like I was letting
everyone down, including myself), despite the fact that I had been the
only theatrical reviewer on from 1998-2006.

DDuring this period, Roger somehow kept in touch with me and would
encourage me to keep hanging in there. I repeat…the man who was fighting
for his own life…was encouraging me!! How can you not
love this great man and spirit? Over those years, I was always inspired to
hear those words from him, especially during many of my own hospital trips
during which I spend a lot of time by myself in my hospital room, with my
laptop beside me. I continually reminded Roger about how influential and
important his own fight was to me and many others, but he would never pat
himself on the back or anything of the sort. He just kept fighting his own
fight privately, encouraging me and keeping his eye on returning to what
he loved doing most: watching movies and writing about them.

When his cancer went into remission a few years ago, it was around the
same time as my own ailments went into remission, so we communicated about
that, and I remember him emailing me cool stories from time to time, and
always asking me “How I was doing”. The fact that he actually considered
me a peer was already a highlight of my life, but here we were, two fellow
film critics, going through real life issues and connecting on that level.

I’m not really sure if any of these stories or words will mean
anything to anyone else but me, but I felt like I had to write this up
today, especially as his passing has affected me a lot more than I would
have imagined. Recently,

his life story was bought and announced to be made into a film of its own
but as per usual, when I emailed Roger to offer my congratulations back in
September of 2012, he downplayed the whole thing by saying that the film
was “not his idea”, but that you “can’t say no to Steve James!”. Always

But you know what the best part is about all these nice
things I have to say about Roger? I’m not alone.

Our current
theatrical reviewer, Chris Bumbray, met him at TIFF a few years ago and
said that he was a “really nice guy, humble and down-to-earth” and
hundreds, thousands of others have said the same. Anyone living in Chicago
can tell you that he was always seen walking around on the streets and
folks would approach him readily all the time, and he was always
accepting. We even asked him to film a “goofy skit” with us a few years
ago when we were producing the “JoBlo Movie Show” and he was totally into
it — unfortunately, he was going through treatments at the time, so we
weren’t able to make it work.

All that to say, I believe that it’s
important to mourn and cherish the memory of our loved ones after they
pass, but even more importantly, to celebrate the lives and the goodness
of those worthy of it
, whenever possible, because folks like this don’t
come around every day. In fact, I consider myself extremely lucky and
blessed to have met Roger Ebert, both on the professional front, as he was
always very encouraging and helpful in regards to my career, but even
moreso on a personal front, because he provided me with more strength and
faith to plow through my own health issues, even as he was fighting his
own ailments.

Thank you for everything, Roger.

The movie world already misses your words, but we are lucky enough to
still have them with us in our world, which generations on end can
continue to read and utilize for their own cinematic educations. Hope
you’re sitting around up there, surrounded by Hitchcock, Kubrick and
Kurosawa, talking shop and we will absolutely always see, and remember
you…at the movies.