My Facebook news feed was in overdrive yesterday with the passing of film critic Roger Ebert. An Urbana native, he maintained close ties to the community and sponsored an annual film festival that became the biggest event* in our twin cities.
I had the opportunity to meet Roger in person a couple of times, most recently in 2000 when we trekked up to Chicago to record an interview with him for the movie review show that I used to produce.
A year or two after this interview, I began to be puzzled and annoyed by Ebert’s reviews. He would fixate on picayunish flaws.** He would serve as an outlier on films as widely-praised as the 2009 Star Trek reboot and as thoroughly panned as Nicolas Cage’s Knowing. And then there was his stubbornly ignorant stance on the question of whether video games could be considered art.
Of course, the reason that his opinions perturbed me far more than those of, say, Richard Roeper was the recognition that he was our preeminent film critic–arguably our preeminent critic, period. What he said mattered, even if I thought it was dead wrong.
And few people loved movies more, or did more to promote the appreciation of film, than did Roger Ebert. He might have hated, hated, hated certain films, but that burning rage was borne out of his beliefs that movies could and should be more. He will be missed.
Another great who passed on yesterday was a legend of the Golden and Silver Ages of comic books, penciller Carmine Infantino. His first story for DC Comics in 1947 introduced the Black Canary, a villainess who eventually became one of the industry’s best-known superheroines.
But it was his work on the Silver Age version of The Flash that made his reputation. Infantino was superb at selling the incredible velocity of the crimebuster, depicting him as a series of red-and-yellow after-images.
Later he was the regular artist of Marvel’s Star Wars comics, drawing most every issue during the years between the original film and the release of The Empire Strikes Back.
Infantino’s death is the severing of one of the few remaining ties to comics’ early days.
*The next Ebertfest is less than two weeks from now. No one has said whether they will continue beyond 2013, but I suspect that, given Roger’s failing health, contingency plans must have been considered.
**Really, there were plenty of good reasons to dislike The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but Ebert’s criticism was mostly about its inaccurate depiction of Venice. In a movie in which Mr. Hyde and Captain Nemo fight Professor Moriarty.