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The movies and mortality

Posted by Mark Feeney  February 23, 2010 10:27 AM

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           With all due respect to Wesley and Ty (and A.O. Scott, and David Denby, and, well, fill in your own favorite practitoners' names), the heroic age of movie reviewing is long gone. Those heady days when the culture would wobble ever so slightly in anticipation of Pauline Kael's latest broadside in The New Yorker, or Renata Adler would unload on Pauline to the tune of 8000 words (try tweeting that!) in The New York Review of Books, or Andrew Sarris would make the world that much safer for auteurism in the pages of The Village Voice? Well, that was back before the Punic Wars.

Stanley Kauffmann remains a model of terse astringency in The New Republic at 93 (that's not a typo). But he's never really been a movie person -- or larger cultural presence -- the way Pauline was or Sarris is. The only real survivor of those mighty days of Sturm und Drang amid the son et lumiere is Roger Ebert. And Chris Jones' very good profile of him in the March Esquire makes you appreciate the full import of that word, "survivor."

However unintentionally, the success Ebert and Gene Siskel had with their thumbs up/thumbs down routine on TV helped end the heroic age. There's never been any doubt about Ebert's profound attachment to movies, though, or the many contributions he's made to film culture generally, with his books, lecturing, and, of course, decades of serious, passionate reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Now 67, Ebert keeps writing away, not just at the Sun-Times, but also on his blog, Roger Ebert's Journal. He's writing more than ever, actually, this despite the fact a series of cancer operations has left him unable to speak, eat, or drink (he receives nourishment from a feeding tube). Other than that, Ebert leads a normal existence _--whatever normal means. Jones' piece is engrossing reading for anyone interested in mortality, which is presumably everyone old enough to see an R picture unaccompanied by adult. It has a special resonance for anyone who loves movies. The joy and sustenance Ebert continues to derive from moviegoing speaks to anyone who's paid money to spend a few hours sitting in the dark and then come out feeling renewed afterwards.

(Another aspect of the Jones piece is worth noting. Expect it to become required reading in journalism schools. Why? There can't be many other magazine profiles where a reader has the chance to find out not just what the writer thought of the subject but what the subject thought of the profile. Ebert, pro that he is, approves.)



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Movie news, reviews, and more.


Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

Mark Feeney is an arts writer for The Boston Globe.

Janice Page is movies editor for The Boston Globe.

Tom Russo is a regular correspondent for the Movies section and writes a weekly column on DVD releases.

Katie McLeod is's features editor.

Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at

Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer for

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