Friday, 5 April 2013

The Balcony is Closed: In Memory of Roger Ebert


If you read Roger Ebert's journal entry earlier this week, the suspicion that it might just be his last will perhaps have entered your mind. It was by no means unusual for him to open and close with a big, fat “thank you” to his readers. But the tone was of a man who had come to terms with the fact of death – sincere, gracious, accepting. In-between, he quietly announced that the cancer he had fought so arduously for the last several years and which had taken part of his lower jaw, along with his ability to speak, had once again returned. He wrote of taking a step back from writing reviews as if he had all the time in the world and of the Martin Scorsese-directed bio-documentary of his life as if he had none. Whether he knew it or not, within two days he would be dead.

            The man throughout his career was hailed as the foremost populist movie critic in America and derided as an elitist. The truth is he was neither of these things. He didn’t always follow the consensus, yet was firmly in tune with popular expectations. His reviews were not developed in thesis, yet were definitely rooted in long-standing traditions of critical thinking. When he reviewed a movie, he simply gave his opinion. More often than not, his subjective take reflected the objective reality. He awarded to movies anything between zero and four stars, with special reservations in his lengthy list of Great Movies for those movies that happened to transcend the ordinary. But he was always quick to note that his appraisal of a movie was relative to other movies, based on genre, on what the movie was attempting to achieve and to what extent the movie achieved it within set limitations.

 What Ebert himself achieved was not breathtakingly original, but it was wider in scope and deeper in thought, kinder than most and smarter than your average. His reviews were precise, well-written and to the point, occasionally with an original insight or three in there for good measure. He represented the Golden Mean of movie writing. The man was, furthermore, an unrefined moralist, something which likely stemmed directly from an honourable Catholic upbringing. If a movie committed a moral offence, he could be defiant. He hated Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart, both widely-regarded in their time, for not taking violence seriously. He hated A Clockwork Orange, a movie distinctly lacking in human qualities, but which nevertheless inspires endless philosophical debates, for its hypocritical ideological stance. Dirty Harry he didn’t mind so much – it was openly fascist.

            His favourite kinds of movies were the ones in which he could indulge his sense of awe and he welcomed with an open heart and mind any movie, filmmaker or actor who could fulfill this desire to be awed. Robert Mitchum was his favourite actor and Ingrid Bergman his favourite actress. His favourite movies included Apocalypse Now, the final statement on Vietnam, 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which man transcends through several stages of evolution, and Raging Bull, in which a boxer so bent by jealousy pummels the wife who has the nerve to so much as look at another man and so intent on self-destruction allows himself to be pummeled so he can feel again.

 The better part of a career spanning 46 years, however, was spent vigorously combating the man with whom he once described as having shared “the defining friendship of my life.” Siskel and Ebert’s unprecedented television show, At the Movies, which ran from 1982 – 1999, provided the longest reach of his career and for Ebert a formidable opponent, one that shared - on an equal footing – a deep love for cinema. Their rivalry was of mythic proportions, but it was, nevertheless, born out of mutual respect and admiration; the manner in which they fervently deconstructed each other’s arguments merely evidenced how intently both were listening.

 Gene Siskel and I were like tuning forks,” he wrote for the tenth anniversary tribute of his dear friend, who died in 1999 following complications from surgery. “Strike one, and the other would pick up the same frequency. When we were in a group together, we were always intensely aware of one another. Sometimes this took the form of camaraderie, sometimes shared opinions, sometimes hostility. But we were aware. If something happened that we both thought was funny but weren't supposed to, God help us if one caught the other's eye. We almost always thought the same things were funny. That may be the best sign of intellectual communion.”

 Roger Ebert died on April 4, 2013. He is survived by his loving and eternally dedicated wife, who was in turn received with greater love and rapture than any movie. He will be forever missed by anyone who ever shared in his love and empathy for movies and humankind.
 By Dean Sterling Jones

Friday, 29 March 2013

Ireland (History and Travel Guidebook) e-book version

An overview of Ireland's history and burgeoning modernity, revised and optimized for e-book readers. Not definitive by any means, but beautifully written, meticulously researched and willfully idiosyncratic. Recommended to anyone interested in Ireland and its history, or to those who are planning to visit. Features pieces on the Titanic, the Giant's Causeway, information about the Troubles and a list of Irish drinks.

Ireland (History and Travel Guidebook) e-book version by Kay 'n' Dee Books

Friday, 8 March 2013

Advertisements for Himself: In Defence of Norman Mailer

A two-parter, this essay regards the science, madness and superstition of Norman Mailer's disreputable manifesto (disreputable manifesto is Robert Christgau's phrase).
Advertisements for Himself: In Defence of Norman Mailer

Sunday, 10 June 2012


This is a capsule review of the 2009 movie Disgrace adapted for the screen by Anna Maria Monticelli from J.M. Coetzee's book of the same name and directed by Steve Jacobs.

David Lurie arrogantly welcomes disgrace, without spurring its momentum, without analysis of its arrival. This is post-apartheid South Africa; an older man, a white English professor, seduces a young, black and - crucially - female student. The way in which he is then forced to come to terms with the rape of his daughter when three black youths invade her farmhouse, where he lives with her in exile, works squarely within the context of his own disgrace. How can he relate to his daughter? How can he relate to himself? How can he ever possibly reconcile these parallel violations and redeem himself in the eyes of each of the victims? Race, sexual politics and societal hierarchy creating a confluence of tension, here is a movie that plays harmoniously in the two traditions of moral storytelling and character study. A brilliant version of modern history and empire in South Africa through the prism of white, male identity and the betrayal of some of its most corrupt instincts.