Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Friends of Roger Ebert

Stanley Hauerwas said his autobiography would be as much about the friends who made him as it was about himself. With Roger Ebert's memoirs this was even more so. Through his regaling of the details of place and personality, we get our impression of the man. Since Ebert was famous for interviewing others and reviewing their works, I suppose this is apropos.

This was a captivating memoir--probably largely in part because I liked Roger Ebert, but also because it is so rawly yet excellently written. Some of the best parts are the chapters about film directors and other characters in Ebert's life. I loved how he would capture them in a phrase or two. Here are some of my favourites:


Ingmar Bergman

On visiting Bergman on set: "When you are making a film about the silence of God, it helps if everyone feels right at home and there's a pot of coffee brewing."

"'What kind of crew do you use?' [David] Lean asked him. 'I make my films with eighteen good friends,' said Ingmar. 'That's interesting,' said Lean, 'I make mine with one hundred and fifty enemies.'"


Robert Altman

"Altman was a collaborator. Many directors are private and dictatorial. He involved everyone. He and Kathryn moved in a crowd, and actors became like familiy. He directed in a conspiratorial style, as if he and the actors were putting something over on absent enemies."



Woody Allen

"At one point, [Soon-Yi] advised him to be more animated when he appeared onstage with his band... 'They want to see you bob a little,' she says, and he gets defensive: 'I'm appropriately animated for a human being in the context in which I appear.' But in the next concert, he bobs a little."

Werner Herzog

"Each film has proceeded from an idea of a unique character approaching reality at an oblique angle.... When he uses movie stars, it is for their oddness, not for their fame. But he doesn't make freak shows. His characters are more human than the grotesque fabrications I see in many romantic comedies or violent action movies."

Gene Siskel

"[A]nother Chicago media couple, Steve Dahl and Garry Meier ... gave us advice about how to work together as a successful team. Soon afterward Steve and Garry had an angry public falling-out that has lasted to this day. Gene and I would never have had that happen to us. In our darkest brooding moments, when competitiveness, resentment, and indignation were at a roiling boil, we never considered it. We were linked in a bond beyond all disputing."

"'Do I look okay, Gene?' I asked him one night when we were waiting backstage to go on the Leno show.... 'Roger, when I need to amuse myself, I stroll down the sidewalk reflecting that every person I pass thought they looked just great when they walked out of their house that morning.'"


In sum, Ebert writes: "Artists like [these] bring meaning to my life, which has been devoted in such large part to films of worthlessness." To Ebert's credit, much of the meaning he found in others came from his own approach to life and to journalism, which he took from the advice of Studs Terkel: "Ask questions... If you don't know anything, just respond by asking questions. It's not how much you know."

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