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Kearney: Roger Ebert shone for decades as class act

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Kearney: Roger Ebert shone for decades as class act

Ryan Kearney, Columnist

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In the few days since the passing of renowned film critic Roger Ebert, there have been so many scores of tributes paid to him and his legacy that writing another one for this paper seems almost unnecessary. Yet it is precisely because he has received such an avalanche of praise and mourning that his memory deserves another commemoration. In his decades as a critic, writer, and thinker, Ebert left a dazzling trail of wise, eloquent work, work that never failed to convey his sheer intelligence and integrity. Ebert was a legend, and his example served to inspire millions to discover the power of writing and film for themselves.

To those who don’t particularly follow the media world, the outpouring of love for Ebert in the aftermath of his death may seem like a bit much; after all, basically everyone and their mother believes that they can be a movie critic in the Internet age, and the newspaper industry is waning in power, to say the least. Yet Ebert earned this outpouring, and then some, with more than 45 years of writing his column for the Chicago Sun-Times, a column in which his knowledge of cinema was on full display and did more to shape the popular notions of what was “good” than perhaps any other.  This column, combined with his weekly television show, in which he was first paired with the late Gene Siskel and then with Richard Roeper, cemented Ebert’s position as our culture’s foremost barometer of what movies were worth seeing.

Ebert did not gain all of this prestige and influence as a film critic by accident, though; he gained it by being a class act in every aspect of his life. His film critiques were certainly not always positive, but they were always fair and well defended.  He genuinely believed in the magic of film and the power it has to entertain, inform, and inspire the imagination, and he treated the topic with the respect and intellect that it deserved. In an era of increasing cynicism and a trend of critics seeing who could out-snark the other when it came to ripping apart pop culture, Ebert was 100 percent sincere in his opinions. It’s pretty difficult to be adored and revered by so many when your job is to critique the work of others, but Ebert pulled it off.

Ebert’s wit and thoughtfulness were not limited to the topic of films, though. His writings on charged topics such as politics, science, and religion revealed a man of great depth and character, and his views on science and religion were equally nuanced and respectable. Ebert was always respectful in his critiques, though. His views on politics and religion attracted their share of detractors, as would be expected, but few apart from the occasional anonymous Internet commenter ever questioned his sincerity or his intellect. For a man to remain this respected throughout a lifetime of opining on hot-button topics and evaluating the work of others is remarkable, and Ebert should be commended for this.

Ebert’s eloquent writing, kind nature, and undeniable integrity made him more than just a newspaper critic; for countless individuals over the years, he was an inspiration, the one who showed them how to do what they loved, make their voice clear, and be loved and respected for it.  For journalists of all kinds, Ebert was the shining example of what a columnist should be, and of how to achieve success and admiration in a field in which both are so hard to come by. And for movie and pop-culture fanatics like myself, Ebert’s passion for cinema and his articulate style of explaining what makes a good movie were integral in establishing a similar love in all of us.

In every area of his life, at every stage of his long career, Roger Ebert was a class act. His presence will be sorely missed, but his legacy will live on — and hopefully inspire many more people to live lives as fulfilling and admirable as his was.

Ryan Kearney is a Communication sophomore. He can be reached at ryankearney2015@u.northwestern.edu. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

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