I imagine every film blogger will write something about Mr. Ebert's passing. (I suppose as it happens that included Roger Ebert himself.) What can I add? Well - that, for me at least, it is right that the internet be full of Ebert today. I was not a fan of his before the internet. I watched Siskel and Ebert on TV, fairly faithfully at times, especially when it was on PBS, and the first few years afterwards - but stopped somewhere in the late 80s. Sometime after Blue Velvet came out - an important point. I remember that episode - I remember being somewhat awed by the clips from the film. I had to see it; I did; I loved it. It is ironic, because Ebert hated it - and when I read his review of it, in one of his books - it soured me completely on Ebert. Blue Velvet was one of the films that made a real film lover out of me - and he was on the wrong side.
So I put him down as a middlebrow bore, a TV personality whose influence came from the fact that everyone had heard of him. It didn't help that I came across something he wrote against Kiarostami in the late 90s - by which time I was eye-deep in art films, and loved Iranian films. But -
The internet happened. Ebert's reviews showed up on the web. You could find them and read them. And this is the thing: once I read Ebert, I understood Ebert. I didn't always share his taste, and I have too say - for a first rate critic, he screwed up more details in films than anyone I know of... But almost no one, and certainly no popular, mainstream film reviewers, could match his ease with the language - and none of them could get their personalities into their prose like he could. And - none of them had his kind of personality, his generosity, curiosity, enthusiasm for film. Though even there - I found that though I came to respect his film reviews (they form a kind of baseline - when I check a films reviews, I always check his - they are a kind of baseline for opinion, and they always give you an idea of what the film is like), what I really loved were his other writings. Essays, on films or other subjects - the kinds of memoirs he has been writing in the last few years - blog posts - I found as his focus broadened, his best qualities were more and more evident. He's a solid reviewer, a decent critic - he's obviously a profoundly important figure in the film world - but he was a genuinely outstanding writer.
I will end with this. I saw him once, at Million Year Picnic, a comic book store in Harvard Square. He was with Andy Ihnatko, a computer writer - they were talking about Love and Rockets, leafing through the books. I didn't bother them - may have nodded as I passed them, on the way to buy whatever I was buying at the time (probably something like Richard Sala or Julie Doucet, this being the late 90s, and that's what I remember reading then) - but it made me very happy. Maybe that's when I became a fan - if he liked the Brothers Hernandez, I could forgive him for hating Blue Velvet. In any case - the world will be poorer without him.