The Arty Semite

The Movies According to Roger Ebert

By Ezra Glinter

  • Print
  • Share Share

One of the great things about Roger Ebert, who died April 4 at age 70, is that he wrote — or seemed to write — about every movie ever made.

Getty Images

The man was encyclopedic. In his last blog post, two days before he died, he reported that he typically wrote 200 reviews a year, and that in the previous 12 months he had reviewed no less than 306 films, in addition to other writing. Going through his archives you can find out what he thought about pretty much every film released since the start of his career, and many that came before. Reading Roger Ebert is to take a comprehensive survey of the history of film, as seen from the front row.

When I heard that Ebert died I couldn’t help but poke through his writings again, curious to see what he had to say about movies that are canonic or just interesting to me, of longstanding enjoyment or more recent fascination. As homage to a great critic, here are some of the best bits that I came across, arranged in chronological order.

“The Graduate” (December 26, 1967)

Nichols stays on top of his material. He never pauses to make sure we’re getting the point. He never explains for the slow-witted. He never apologizes…. Benjamin’s acute honesty and embarrassment are so accurately drawn that we hardly know whether to laugh or to look inside ourselves.

“Don’t Look Back” (March 21, 1968)

Those who consider Dylan a lone, ethical figure standing up against the phonies will discover, after seeing this film, that they have lost their hero. Dylan reveals himself, alas, to have clay feet like all the rest of us. He is immature, petty, vindictive, lacking a sense of humor, overly impressed with his own importance and not very bright.

“Coonskin” (January 1, 1975)

It seems to me a fairly interesting movie (with a skillful and innovative mixture of animation and stylized live action) is being used as a philosophical Ping Pong ball. Dozens of black exploitation films open every year, all of them freely using racial stereotypes and all of them heavy with sex and violence… By using caricatures and stereotypes so outrageously, Bakshi forces us to SEE them, to deal with them, instead of letting them pile up in our unused but potentially mischievous subconscious baggage.

“Taxi Driver” (January 1, 1976)

“Taxi Driver” is a brilliant nightmare and like all nightmares it doesn’t tell us half of what we want to know… It’s as if the required emotions were written in the margins of their scripts: Give me anger, fear, dread. “

“The Long Goodbye” (March 7, 1973)

Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye” attempts to do a very interesting thing. It tries to be all genre and no story, and it almost works. It makes no serious effort to reproduce the Raymond Chandler detective novel it’s based on; instead, it just takes all the characters out of that novel and lets them stew together in something that feels like a private-eye movie.

“Annie Hall” (January 1, 1977)

And yet there’s always the realization that “Woody” is a projection of a real Woody Allen. That beneath the comic character is a certain amount of painful truth… It’s not that the “real” Woody Allen is as hapless as his fictional creation, but that the character draws from life by exaggerating it. Annie Hall is the closest Allen has come to dealing with that real material. It’s not an autobiography, but we get the notion at times that scenes in the movie have been played before, slightly differently, for real.

“Star Wars” (January 1, 1977)

“Star Wars” is a fairy tale, a fantasy, a legend, finding its roots in some of our most popular fictions. The golden robot, lion-faced space pilot, and insecure little computer on wheels must have been suggested by the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz.” The journey from one end of the galaxy to another is out of countless thousands of space operas. The hardware is from “Flash Gordon” out of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the chivalry is from Robin Hood, the heroes are from Westerns and the villains are a cross between Nazis and sorcerers. “Star Wars” taps the pulp fantasies buried in our memories, and because it’s done so brilliantly, it reactivates old thrills, fears, and exhilarations we thought we’d abandoned when we read our last copy of Amazing Stories.

“My Dinnner With Andre” (January 1, 1981)

Although most of the movie literally consists of two men talking, here’s a strange thing: We do not spend the movie just passively listening to them talk… like the listeners at the feet of a master storyteller, we find ourselves visualizing what Gregory describes, until this film is as filled with visual images as a radio play—more filled, perhaps, than a conventional feature film.

“The Big Lebowski” (March 6, 1998)

Some may complain “The Big Lebowski” rushes in all directions and never ends up anywhere. That isn’t the film’s flaw, but its style. The Dude, who smokes a lot of pot and guzzles White Russians made with half-and-half, starts every day filled with resolve, but his plans gradually dissolve into a haze of missed opportunities and missed intentions. Most people lead lives with a third act. The Dude lives days without evenings.

“Waltz With Bashir” (November 19, 2004)

In war, they say, no one sees the big picture, the men at the top least of all.… We may be confronted here with a fundamental flaw in human nature. When he said “The buck stops here,” Harry Truman was dreaming. The buck never stops.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Roger Ebert, Film, Criticism

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.