Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Roger Ebert: In Control of His Instrument

Roger Ebert is a gracious man. If you haven't already read "Roger Ebert: The Essential Man" by Chris Jones at Esquire, do so now. Then marvel at this story by Deadspin alum Will Leitch, who as a newspaper editor at the University of Illinois got to know Ebert personally:

Meanwhile, the Web was beginning to emerge, and we young turks, swept in during the dot-com boom, all thought we were punk rock gods, ready to kill our idols. Ebert began to feel like the old guard: In the wake of Siskel's death, he had become a ubiquitous presence on television, at the expense of his writing, I felt. In 2000, when I'd moved to New York and, like everybody else, was being paid far too much just to be told I was part of the next "MTV Generation" of Internet stars, I thought I knew everything. You had to burn down the past. These were the days of We Live in Public, of Pets.com, of bringing your dog in the office, of Webvan, of espnet.sportszone.com. We all thought we were hot shit.

And I was ready to make my own name. My editor at Ironminds, the old Web magazine I moved out to New York for, had heard me drunkenly bitching about Ebert at a bar the night before and suggested I write about him. "Put him in his place," he said. "Yeah: It's our time now," I said. We were all so, so stupid.

So I did. The next morning, Ironminds ran a piece called "I Am Sick Of Roger Ebert's Fat F—-ing Face." The piece — which, mercifully, is no longer online — wasn't as virulent as that headline would imply, but I did use that exact line in the piece, and I did make a few cheap shots about his weight. The thesis of the piece was that Ebert's work was suffering because he was on television all the time, but that's not really what it was about: It was me lashing out at Daddy, trying to make my own name, trying to feed off his. That's not what I thought I was doing at the time. But that's absolutely what it was.

Jim Romenesko's MediaNews, which is popular now but was downright Drudge-esque at the time, picked up the piece. The email came almost immediately. I stared at my inbox for five minutes before I worked up the nerve to open it.

Will —

I have always tried to help you, and you know that. I am not sure what you were trying to do with your piece — if you object to me being on television, there is a dial to the right that will take care of that problem for you — what issues you might be dealing with, but I am certain you will grow to regret writing it someday. If you were trying to make a point, I fear you are not in control of your instrument. I wonder if you feel shitty this morning, now that that piece is out there. I know that I do.


Wow. Roger Ebert is a bigger man than I, and I'm not referring to his former rotundity. Most people would have frozen Leitch out or blasted him back, but Ebert's response demonstrated the touch of someone very much in control of their instrument, even under duress. Indeed, he pulled off the rarest of feats, taking the high road while still using profanity. I must make it a point to read Ebert's blog more regularly.


Eric Karros said...

Ebert can lay on the guilt trip like nobody's business

Chappy said...

Roger Ebert has also been through hell in the past four years after enduing thyroid cancer.

Read this link and you'll respect him even more:


Kyle Baker said...

I'd like him more if he would have called out studios more for making "Dude, Where's My Car Part 13" when eh had the chance. Sure he does that more now when he has the chance, but it mattered most earlier.

I turned away from most film criticism - at its height when he and his peers were at theirs - because they were unable to separate themselves from the corporate scholck they were reviewing, rarely able to muster up a negative review for fear of retribution by the networks they played on or the print media they wrote for. Sad sellouts. Nto directing all this toward RE by any stretch, and to be fair he was probably not as great an offender as was, say, G. Shallitt.

Kyle Baker said...

Come on, it's been all day and no one has made a "which hand does he use for that" or "skin flute" reference to this post title. Folks, I expected more out of you.

Nostradamus said...


I would have slipped a little something in there, but I've been plugging away with the tools of my trade, cleaning up my junk drawer, and servicing the equipment all day today. There just wasn't time to come up with something off the top of my head.

Fred's Brim said...

the killer line from Leitch's piece was Ebert's response a year later to a business-related note from Leitch:

"Does this mean you're no longer sick of my fat fucking face? :-)
It's an honor. I hope you're well."

My only experience with him was watching At The Movies and I couldn't stand him. He seemed arrogant and snide and I "rooted" for Siskel (as if there could be some kind of winner on that show).

But to send a response like that? Damn. I realize now that the guy gets it. He understood where Leitch was coming from the year before (it was still wrong) and was forgive the obvious mistake. He is a big man.

Orel said...

Take a bow, Mr. C!

Cliff Beefpile said...

paying respect to the guy and STILL able to get in a couple of digs about his weight. and dick jokes in the comments to boot. i can't believe i wasted all those years in the dodgerblues forums before stumbling onto this site.

Nostradamus said...


So, is it a new record for innuendo density?

Kyle Baker said...

welcome home, el montanero.