Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert, Fare Well

I first encountered Roger Ebert forty years ago at University of Colorado's Conference on World Affairs. He came every year with a movie, and sitting by the stop-action 16 mm projector in the 150-seat theater, he would spend an hour a day over the 5 days of the conference screening the film, stopping the scene every time he or another audience member had an observation to make.

It was a conversation in the dark - no need for shyness - and he shared his deep knowledge and genuine delight in the ways a movie engages us to tell its story. Color, lighting, depth of focus, which direction characters are facing, lines of perspective, use of sound, camera motion or stillness, closeups and long shots, image motifs, rapid cuts or continuity, the ways the director develops themes and uses plot structures -- he, and we, explored and talked about it all.

Some years later, when I lived in the DC area, I was fortunate to attend a similar movie-in-depth, the subject being Citizen Kane.  Again, in the companionship of darkness and our collective love of film, we talked for hours about frame after frame, from Orson Welles' camera angles that included ceilings, to the lengthening table that illustrated in a quick succession of shots the estrangement of Charles Foster Kane and his wife, to the rich palette of his black-and-white creation.

Roger knew so much about this relatively young art form, but he didn't just love high-born films - he loved movies too: Swamp Thing, Fast Times at Ridgemont High - he admired craft and a well-told story, whether the intention was to explore universal themes or just to entertain.

Roger, thank you so much for opening our eyes!

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