Roger Ebert: 1942-2013

Shakeflicksthatmakemesick has been offline for a few weeks while I focus on some Real Life Stuff that can’t be ignored no matter how much I try. But I wanted to come back for a brief moment and pay tribute to Roger Ebert, one of the all time great Chicago writers.

I often disagreed with Roger’s movie reviews. All the way back to Sneak Previews, I was far more likely to nod my head at Gene Siskel’s assessment than Roger’s critique. But I kept on reading his stuff and watching his program and realized that even though my opinion frequently veered in a different direction than his, his writing was still very interesing. You had to admire his emotional investment in every movie he watched and his unabashed cheerleading for the practice of filmmaking in general.

When I first started researching motion sickness in hand-held films, the best article I came across was written by Roger Ebert. He actually gave definition to the churning sensation in my gut every time I watched a movie made with a shaky cam – he called it The Vomiting Point.

“While two seconds is a short shot, remember that an ASL is obtained by averaging in all of the shots, long and short, that there are 24 frames of film to a second, and that the human eye can actually perceive one frame (as with the Satanic face in The Exorcist). What is crucial (the “vomiting point,” we could call it) is apparently when a film doesn’t vary its pace, but is largely made of short hand-held shots, edited together by quick cuts that ignore spatial continuity.”

Roger Ebert

I read Ebert’s autobiography a few years ago (Life Itself) and it dawned on me why his point of view was so familiar. He grew up in Urbana and went to my alma mater, the University of Illinois and moved to Chicago after graduating. His writing was straightforward, enthusiatic and as midwestern as Prairie style architechture. His later books and web entries showed not only a vast knowledge of film but an unwavering point of view that grew stronger with every health crisis he faced. Plus, he wrote this:

“A downstate Illinois boy loves the Steak ’n Shake as a Puerto Rican loves rice and beans, an Egyptian loves falafel, a Brit loves banger and mash, an Indian loves tikki ki chaat, a Swede loves herring, a Finn loves reindeer jerky, and a Canadian loves bran muffins,” he wrote. “These matters do not involve taste. They involve a deep-seated conviction that a food is absolutely right, and always has been, and always will be.”

From one downstate Illinoisian to another, I salute you, Roger. I hope there is a Steak ’n Shake wherever you’ve gone, and that you can finally taste that steakburger again.

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