It is almost a year since I received the e-mail notifying me of your death, and I and others are still thinking of you while missing you a lot. At the end of last year, many people wondered about what movies you would include in your annual list, and then we went through the Oscar season without you for the first time, and now we are approaching to April 4th, your deathday.
You once said you always missed your dear friend and partner Gene Siskel everyday since his untimely death in 1999. As a guy who had only known you for less than 5 years, I do not think I miss you that much, but I cannot help but think of you whenever I get depressed or excited at the local theaters in my town. Whenever I come across something really good or new, my mind always says the same thing: “I wish Roger were here with us and talked about it with his usual enthusiasm.”
And that kind of thinking happened a lot during 2013. Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity”(2013) is definitely something you would be enthusiastic about because it brings us into a new experience we have never had before, and its groundbreaking technological achievement actually serves the story and character in a powerful way unlike those bland special effects. As a guy who championed “Mississippi Burning”(1988), “Do the Right Thing”(1989), “Malcolm X”(1992), and “Crash”(2004), you would instantly pour your thoughts and feelings into your reviews right after watching Steven McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave”(2013) and Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station”(2013), and you would probably predict the eventual victory of the former at the Oscars like you correctly predicted about “Argo”(2012). Martin Scorsese, a great American director you had supported since his first movie “Who’s That Knocking at My Door?”(1967), recently strikes us again with “The Wolf of Wall Street”(2013), and I sadly missed your opinion while enthralled by its relentless approach to a despicably excessive lifestyle during its 3 hours. Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue is the Warmest Color”(2013) pushes its two talented actresses to very challenging scenes to create the intimate, penetrating portrayal of sexuality and relationship, and I wondered how you would think about its frank depiction of nudity and sex as a critic who wrote three different insightful reviews on “Last Tango in Paris”(1972). In your Great Movies essay on “La Dolce Vita”(1960), you touchingly said how you watched it differently as growing older, and that was why I kept thinking about “what would Roger think of this?” as watching Paolo Sorrentio’s “The Great Beauty”(2013), which is an apparent successor to that Fellini’s masterpiece.
Anyway, that is just my wistful thinking, Roger, because, above all, you have been no longer in the position to give us opinions on new films since that sad day in 2013 April. The 86th Academy awards ceremony reminded us of your absence a lot even before its “In Memoriam” montage; I missed not only your Outguess Ebert contest but also your writings we used to read during Oscar seasons, and I got the same feeling many of our friends and acquaintances had when your picture was shown during the “In Memoriam” montage.
2014 is the first year to begin without you, and, as far as I can see, I and others may have a fairly good year even if it is not better than 2013. I was excitedly busy again with those Oscar season movies during this January and February, and my first big fun of this year is “The Lego Movie”(2014), the best parody animation film since “Rango”(2011).
And there is a documentary I will definitely mention at the end of this year. After many months of waiting, I finally saw “Life Itself”(2014), the documentary whose production you helped on your usual full disclosure mode. As you wished before your death, Steve James, the director of “Hoop Dreams”(1994) and “The Interrupters”(2011), made an excellent documentary about your remarkable life, and I am happy to report to you that it is as honest and sincere as you wanted. As watching the documentary, I really regretted the fact that I belatedly watched your immortal trash “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”(1970) after your death. Seriously, I really want to ask you this now; “Roger, how the hell did you happen to write such an outrageous trash flick?”
“Life Itself” will be shown at the upcoming Ebertfest on April 23th, and it will give the audiences a moment to remember – and I will not be surprised if there is a long standing ovation at the end of screening. In case of the other ones to be shown, your wife Chaz and others picked good ones from the list you gave them, and they also selected a number of movies you would choose with no hesitation if you were alive. “Museum Hours”(2012), “Wadjda”(2012), and “Short Term 12”(2013) are wonderful films I cannot forget easily, and I am particularly glad that they chose “Short Term 12”, which has many harrowing moments which draw us into raw emotions as inducing our empathy toward its struggling characters.
But, again, I cannot go to Ebertfest in this year due to my academic work involved with thesis. As I frankly revealed in my 2012 FFC review on “Oslo, August 31st”(2011), I almost killed myself during late 2012, but, after being diagnosed to have depression and Asperger’s syndrome, I got better and I successfully did the proposal for my thesis in late 2013 with the help from my patient advising professor. Now I have lots of work to do within a short time, so I will have to concentrate more on my study and manuscripts to be published.
I think I will graduate in the next year, and then I will come to 2015 Ebertfest as remembering many lovely moments I had during 2010. Before attending 2010 Ebertfest, I walked a lot around Chicago(do you remember that your assistant Carol Iwata once joked that I probably knew more about the city than her?), and I watched three movies with you and Chaz and your nurse Milly, and you were very generous to me while I was at a loss about what to say to someone I admired and respected from the distance for many years.
I wish I could have interacted more with you during that time, but I was just a young, naive guy who was dazzled and confused while meeting his hero in person, and then I suddenly arrived in the last day of 2010 Ebertfest, which was bittersweet to me in many ways. As I said before, I went through some emotional difficulty after I returned to South Korea, and it lasted for days until I finished my writing on that great experience with Chicago, Ebertfest and its wonderful people, and you.
I would never see you again in person after that time, but you were always there for me like you were to your friends, and I am still grateful for that. Once I decided that I should keep writing reviews thanks to your thoughtful encouragement, I moved on, and I have been writing many essays as one of your Far-flung correspondents – and I have recently got my latest one posted on your website.
Oh, by the way, you will be proud of your new website if you see it. It has been managed well thanks to Chaz and Matt Zoller Seitz and others since it was launched right after your death in last year, and it is packed with many talented writers who willingly give their opinions on the latest movies every week with considerable honesty and insights and wits. Some of readers grumbled many times that you would have thought differently, but, pardon my language, F*CK them all. Even when you disagreed with others, you always respected their opinions as long as they were clear and thoughtful, and, as far as I can see, these fabulous writers have been so far giving what you hoped for.
And you are still a good teacher to me, Roger. One of the recent movies was Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah”(2014), and I had a mixed feeling about it – and I was rather nervous about writing the review because I was not so sure about whether it was a good movie or not. I even considered to write a favorable review while trying to interpret my reactions to the movie as positive ones, but I remembered well what you taught me through many of your valuable reviews, and I followed it; I wrote honestly about what I thought and felt during the screening, and then I decided to rate it with two stars while admiring Aronofsky’s talent and integrity. The movie is a mess, but it is something wild we do not see everyday, and I can say it is more distinctive than “Captain America: The Winter Solider”(2014), which is enjoyable but will probably be forgotten along with other blockbuster products to come.
Today, I came across the new article on the latest Blu-ray releases written by Glenn Kenny on your website, and one of the recommended ones was “The Swimmer”(1968). The title sounds like one of those old corny movies, but the movie turns out to be something quite interesting, and, after reading your four-star review, I become more interested in it.
See, Roger, you’re still a good critic for me and others.
“A Leave of Presence” – the last piece written by Roger Ebert before his death
“Remembering Roger” – I wrote this during the afternoon of April 5th.
“REMEMBERING ROGER: THE TABLE OF CONTENTS” : rogerebert.com has a variety of pieces about his legacy and impact.