This week at Making It Up As I Go, I am debuting a Movies section where I’ll be posting essays on movies. The pieces won’t be your typical movie reviews, assessing the merits of the latest blockbuster to appear in the nearest multiplex (although perhaps I’ll do that at some point in the future). Rather, they will be “discussions” of older movies that I’ve recently re-watched, movies like Casablanca or Raiders of the Lost Ark or those I have seen for the first time, like Notorious or There Will Be Blood.
I have wanted to write about movies for a long time. In fact, I remember telling my friends in college that if I could write, I would write movie reviews. There’s basically one reason for this desire: Roger Ebert.
People who are familiar with Ebert probably know him from the television shows “Sneak Previews” and later “At The Movies” that he did with Roger Siskel, the film critic from the Chicago Tribune. Starting in 1975, these shows made the pair famous due to their spirited arguments and for creating the “Thumbs Up” rating system, a system so respected that it became the gold standard in critical approval of movies. If a new film received “Two Thumbs,” that piece of information was perhaps the most important thing ads for the film would display.
I watched these shows with interest and enjoyment, but I was always more interested in Ebert’s written reviews. When I was a teenager in central Minnesota, every weekend I would grab the Saturday edition of the St. Cloud Times, which had an insert that contained interviews and articles about movies and television shows. In the back, it also published Ebert’s latest movie reviews.
I started reading these reviews to learn more about new movies to identify the ones that I would badger my parents to see in the theaters. However, in the long run, I read the reviews because I loved them. Ebert was a great writer; in fact, he was the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize. His reviews were intelligent and witty, whether they were positive or negative.
When Ebert wrote his reviews, he employed a relative approach, taking into account what the movie was seeking to do and what the audience expected from the particular movie. He understood that Airplane! wasn’t intended or expected to be the same type of movie or experience as The Godfather. His reveiw recognized that Airplane! was “sophomoric” and “corny” but he also gave it four stars, his highest ranking, and the same ranking he gave to Best Picture-winning The Godfather.
I didn’t always agree with Ebert. He didn’t appreciate one of my favorite action movies, Die Hard, and gave it two stars. However, he enjoyed the abysmal Speed 2: Cruise Control (which was essentially Die Hard on a cruise ship) and gave it three and a half stars. Other examples abound, but in the end, these instances represent differences of opinion that everyone has, whether they are the professional or casual movie viewer.
Over the years, I continued to read Ebert’s written reviews and essays in books like The Great Movies, even after cancer stole his physical voice. I still read them after his death. In the end, the main reason isn’t because he was a great writer or I appreciated his reviewing approach. It was because he filled each of his writings with his love of movies. This love was crystal clear and it was contagious. By reading Ebert, I couldn’t help but loving movies as well and to want to write about them.
I’m not as good as a writer as Ebert nor as knowledgeable about movies, but I do love them. I hope that you’ll read some of my movie pieces and you’ll come to enjoy movies more. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to see a movie you would have never seen before or you will be able to see an older movie in a new light.
Or perhaps you’ll be bored senseless. I hope not. I’m hoping you’ll give this a chance and love movies with me.
The first movie I’ll be discussing is Searching For Bobby Fischer, a 1993 film by Steven Zaillian, the screenwriter for Schindler’s List, Gangs of New York, and American Gangster. Click here to read it and, if you like it, please leave me a comment or a like.