On Ebert

“The idea that the most interesting part of a movie happens after you see it—during the post-mortems you have with others and with yourself in your own head—was something that carried over easily to the songs and albums I was discovering at the time.”

from Steven Hyden’s Roger Ebert: Afterword

The death of Roger Ebert has left me with a lingering sadness, something I’ve been trying to work through by reading as many remembrances as possible. The above quote cuts to the center of it, I think, explaining why the death of a film critic I never met, never knew beyond his writing, warrants an emotional response.

My first memories of media analysis and criticism come from Saturday afternoons spent watching At the Movies, hearing Siskel and Ebert argue about films I hadn’t (and likely wouldn’t) seen. In retrospect, I can read it as a formative experience—an intro to the joys of debate and discussion; two smart, nerdy afficiandos beamed into my southern Indiana home via broadcast tv.

Many of my media experiences would follow that Siskel & Ebert structure: the late nights at the movie theater, where I worked in high school & undergrad, debating the pleasures and problems of a film (like Ebert, I’ve devoted many words to spirited defenses of Minority Report); lengthy email threads about the merits of a new record; grad school weekends spent arguing about short stories or novels.

Today, long-form TV is my preferred narrative vehicle, and after nearly every show I watch—from Game of Thrones to Breaking Bad to Community—I head over to the TV Club, thinking through and arguing about the show before sending links to and drafting commentaries for friends and colleagues.

So thank you, Ebert, for teaching a much younger me about the joys of thinking and talking and listening. I’ve tried to build a life around the act of responding to media and narrative, and as much as I value the moment of experiencing art, I’ve found that the best parts are the conversations after—lingering in hallways and lobbys, working through the experience, trying to determine what it all might mean.

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