×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Roger Ebert: The Last Critic Who Mattered?

The Web, social media and newspaper cuts have all worked to fragment and kill off serious voices in the mainstream media

This week’s opening night tribute to the Toronto Film Festival’s chief cheerleader, the late Roger Ebert, will beg a key question: Can anyone fill his shoes? No other critic ever possessed the international platform of his TV gigs, his visibility or his celebrity.

To put it another way: Was Roger Ebert the last film critic who mattered?

Chaz Ebert echoes the sentiments of many when her husband passed in April. “His criticism was infused with a history of film; with a history of people, and a life well-lived that gave him background and context…. He loved what he did and how it connected him with the dreams of moviegoers everywhere.”

Bizwatcher Paul Dergarabedian of Hollywood.com places him into an historical context. Criticism began as “an esoteric exercise” before the thumbs up-thumbs down Chicago duo “brought film criticism into the mainstream.”

Agrees historian Danny Peary, “They were part of the regular entertainment regimen for people, for the masses….Ebert genuinely loved movies and encouraged people to see them.”
So did many of his peers, of course. The defunct Boston Phoenix’s scribe Gerald Peary created a feature doc celebrating his profession’s “rich history, putting it together with lives and real faces” hoping to “usher in a Renaissance in film criticism. But clearly it failed on all counts.”

The doc, “For the Love of Movies,” sells well on the Internet, even as upwards of 100 critics have been laid off since its 2009 release.

Film criticism doesn’t have a great sway over the masses of people’s taste,” he mourns. “The object is to put pants in seats, and I regret we film critics aren’t doing anything about that.”
Undisputed once and future locus of opinion is the Internet. Notes Dergarabedian, “The bastion of the elite has become populist. Social media have become the critic. It’s a collective, a co-op.”

Says one filmmaker who wished to remain anonymous, “Twitter and Facebook have replaced (critics). ‘Do my friends like it?’ That’s probably a better indication of whether I’ll like it as well.”
Today’s critical essays are reduced to mere percentages points on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. “It must feel like such an insult to the critics, being reduced to a data point,” says one bizzer. “The Time Magazine guy has the same status as Chucklefuck Film Blog. That must kill him.”

If critics are now unpaid bloggers, print outlets are vanishing and filmmakers don’t give a shit, is there anything of value left? Actually, admiration for serious film writing can be found in unlikely places. Admits one filmmaker, “Great critical writing is a wonderful thing, and when there’s a movie I love or hate, I’ll dive into 10 or 20 reviews for a conversation with them. That fascinates me.”

Jonathan Rosenbaum feels “more part of a community” at his website than in 20 years at the Chicago Reader. “For me, the main function of film criticism is to facilitate and sometimes improve discussions of films….Critics tend to matter more today to filmgoers and readers who know what they’re looking for.”

Monthly visits to his site are a fraction of his print readership, “but these visits have come from over 150 separate countries and have been far more focused and, I think, meaningful and consequential.”

Rosenbaum believes “the cinephiles I meet in their 20s and 30s…know far more about film than I possibly could have at their age.” And if among them is “the next Ebert,” that would please the first one greatly.

“Roger expressed optimism in the democracy of online writing,” Chaz relates, having revamped his own site “to leave more room for other voices….That’s just the way he rolled.”

More Film

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Writers Guild Expands Suit Against Agencies With New Fraud Allegations

    The Writers Guild of America has bulked up its lawsuit with additional fraud allegations against Hollywood’s four biggest talent agencies. The WGA amended its suit Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court with the claim that CAA, WME, UTA and ICM partners have engaged “constructive fraud” by allegedly placing their own interests ahead of their clients [...]

  • 'Heroes Don't Die' Review: A Peculiar,

    Cannes Film Review: 'Heroes Don't Die'

    Just when you think modern cinema has exploited the found-footage conceit from every conceivable angle, along comes a tragicomic mockumentary tracing Bosnia’s recent war-ravaged history via the travails of a young French film crew getting to the root of a reincarnated identity crisis. Aude Léa Rapin’s first narrative feature “Heroes Don’t Die” is nothing if [...]

  • Mediapro, Complutense, NFTS Team On Screenwriting

    The Mediapro Group Launches Master’s Program at Madrid’s Complutense University

    Madrid-based production hub The Mediapro Studio has announced finalized details of an arrangement with Madrid’s Complutense University (UCM) and the National Film and Television School of London (NFTS) on a new Master’s program designed to develop new screenwriting talent. Mediapro general director Juan Ruiz de Gauna, UCM dean of information sciences Jorge Clemente and Irene [...]

  • Argentina, A New Member of Co-Production

    Argentina Joins European Co-Production Fund Eurimages

    CANNES – Argentina will join the European Council’s co-production fund Eurimages as an associate member starting  on October 1 2019, it was officially announced Monday at the Cannes Film Market. The agreement was unveiled by Ralph Haiek, president of Argentine agency Incaa, Eurimages executive director Roberto Olla and the president of global producers assn. Fiapf, [...]

  • "Black Coal Thin Ice" in Berlin

    Chinese Director Diao Yinan Drills Down on 'The Wild Goose Lake'

    Diao Yinan is the only Chinese director with a film in the main competition this year at Cannes. He’s already a known entity on the arthouse circuit having won the Golden Bear in Berlin in 2014 for his hardscrabble coal-blackened detective thriller “Black Coal, Thin Ice.” Now he makes the leap to the Croisette with [...]

  • Blaise Harrison On Cannes Directors’ Fortnight

    Switzerland’s Blaise Harrison on Directors’ Fortnight Player ‘Particles’

    Swiss filmmaker Blaise Harrison is bringing his fiction feature debut to this year’s Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. Known for his documentary work, Harrison was selected for competition at the 2013 Locarno Festival for his film “Harmony,” about a marching band in the small French town of Pontarlier. “Particles” follows P.A., a teenager [...]

  • Constantin Film AG, Feilitzschstrase 6, Muenchen.

    Constantin’s Martin Moszkowicz on a New Market Realism (EXCLUSIVE)

    CANNES  —  2019’s Cannes  hit the floor running. Even after just two days of business, major sales companies were fielding offers from much of the world on top titles. After four days, quite a few were pretty confident they’d sell much of the world. Some of those deals are now being confirmed. Martin Moszkowicz, executive [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content