×
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.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • If I Were a Rich Man

    Filmax Nabs Alvaro Fernandez Armero’s ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Filmax has taken international rights to Álvaro Fernández Armero’s comedy “If I Were a Rich Man.” Produced by Telecinco Cinema, Think Studio and Ciskul, and backed by Mediaset España and Movistar+, “If I Were a Rich Man” is a Spanish remake of Michel Munz and Gerard Bitton’s French comedy “Ah! Si j’étais [...]

  • Baby

    Latido Takes Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s 'Baby' (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Latido Films has taken world sales rights outside Spain on Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s “Baby,” a drama with a psychological thriller narrative thrust starring Rosie Day (“Down a Dark Hall”), Harriet Sansom Harris (“Phantom Thread”), Natalia Tena (“Game of Thrones”), Charo López (“All Night Long”) and young actress Mafalda Carbonell (“To Live Twice”). [...]

  • Noahs Ark

    India’s Symbiosys to Co-Produce, Co-Animate Gullane’s ‘Noah’s Ark’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Noah’s Ark – A Musical Adventure,” Brazil’s most ambitious animated feature ever, just got a bit bigger with the announcement that producers Fabiano Gullane’s Gullane, Walter Salles’ Videofilmes and Felipe Sabino and Daniel Greco’s NIP will be joined by leading Indian animation studio Symbiosys Technologies as co-producers and co-animators. The partnership marks the first occasion [...]

  • Navarra

    Navarre Film Commission Celebrates First Decade at San Sebastian

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —    Since the 1950s, Spain has been a favorite European shooting locale. One of the biggest reasons remains its easily accessible, unique and diverse locations. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this past June, the Navarre Film Commission kicked off a traveling exhibition which has been touring Spain over the summer and will present [...]

  • Rambo Last Blood

    Film Review: 'Rambo: Last Blood'

    Home has always been an abstract concept for John Rambo, which is what the last scene of 2008’s otherwise expendable “Rambo” sequel finally gave the iconic Sylvester Stallone character: a moment when this unsettled Vietnam War survivor, looking very much the worse for wear, lumbers up to a mailbox bearing the character’s surname. At last, [...]

  • Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith. Jada

    Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's Westbrook Inks Development Pact With Telepool (EXCLUSIVE)

    Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s new media venture, Westbrook Inc., has signed a co-development agreement for feature films, television shows and digital entertainment formats with German-based film and TV company Telepool. The move follows the acquisition of Telepool last year by Smith and Elysian Fields, a Zurich-based investment company. Westbrook, launched this year by [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content