Sunday, April 14, 2013

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert wasn't the first film critic I read on a regular basis - that distinction goes to Andrew Sarris in The Village Voice - and surely like many others, I watched him on TV for a long time before I began to read his work with any regularity.  But all these years later, there's little doubt that I've read more of his reviews than any other critic, in any other field.  Before the advent of the Internet, I'd buy the new edition of his Home Movie Companion every other year or so, because in order to keep the volume at a manageable size, they'd have to drop reviews - and sometimes, those were of films like "Red Sonja," which never threatened to make a mark in the annals of film history but which inspired what I still think was some of Ebert's best writing.  To excerpt from his review of "Red Sonja."
"First, she [Sonja] must learn the ways of the sword from the Grandmaster, a character who looks like a cross between Fu Manchu and Clara Peller (the "Where's the beef?" lady). He tells her, "To be a great need a great sword." She nods intently, and selects one from the stock he has on hand. Then she rides out of the ampitheater by passing beneath a statue of the Buddha, who was squatting in such a familiar position that I instinctively knew why he looked so contented. "

"Along the way, Red Sonja meets Kalidor, a muscular swordsman with a great sword. They encounter a little emperor and his valet, who does not carry a great sword but does have several small knives..."

"Kalidor loves Red Sonja. He wants to kiss her. She rebuffs his advance, and says, "I have vowed to love no man who cannot defeat me in battle." This is a tough one for Kalidor. He knits his brow and puzzles it out. "But...if I defeat you," he says, "then you will be dead...and then how will I love you?" His logic is irrefutable, but they fight anyway."

"Red Sonja is one of the ranking goofy movies of our time...The exact time frame of the story is a little hard to figure out, but using the evidence on the screen, I have been able to narrow it down to the epoch between the rise of Buddhism and the year brass brassieres went out of style."
 It also must be worth something that I can remember quite clearly the first time I watched a complete episode of "Sneak Previews."  I don't remember the exact date, but it had to be sometime around the Fall of 1981, because the two "headline" films being reviewed that night were "Prince of the City" and "The French Lieutenant's Woman."  If I recall correctly, both films got two thumbs up, although they seemed to prefer the latter - meaning that even legends can get one wrong every now and then.

But in criticism, there is no "right" and "wrong."  Ebert was quoted as saying that it was his job to explain how he felt about a movie, and not how the viewer should feel about it.  And that's exactly right.


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