Friday, April 5, 2013

Roger Ebert: "Books do furnish a life"

In the past day and a half, there have been countless tributes and remembrances for Roger Joseph Ebert (1942-2013), fully commensurate with what he meant to journalism, movies and American culture over the past half-century.1

He was on the short list of my favorite writers.

Ebert's annual Movie Home Companions (later called Movie Yearbooks) introduced me to countless films I wasn't aware of and gave me fresh insights to ponder on movies I had already seen.

He was, among many other things, one of the great champions of documentary film-making, and his passion for that genre helped to fuel my own. It was from Ebert that I learned of Errol Morris' "The Thin Blue Line"2; Barbara Kopple's "Harlan County, U.S.A."; Les Blank's "Burden of Dreams"; and the "Up" series. And it is primarily because of Ebert that I intend to some day sit down and watch Claude Lanzmann's "Shoah".3

Many have shared their favorite pieces by Ebert in the wake of his passing.

I could link to dozens of my favorite reviews and writings. He had few equals when it came to skewering a bad film, but I prefer reading and re-reading the enthusiasm and keen analysis he offers when discussing the great movies.

But I'm only going to share one piece.4 It's the one with the most relevance to Papergreat, and it's also one that's probably not being circulated as much today.

In October 2009, Ebert published an essay titled "Books do furnish a life" on his blog. It's a beautiful piece about a lifetime of reading and being surrounded by books.

It won't take you very long to read, though I will say that the 600-plus comments are also required reading, and the sum total of what is conveyed by Ebert and his commenters is a powerful statement about the importance of books (not e-books!) in our lives.


Documentary filmmaker Les Blank, who I mentioned in this post, died on April 7, 2013, three days after Ebert.

1. I want to at least pass along two links: First, Chris Jones' 2010 Esquire profile of Ebert. Second, this collection Ebert remembrances, as curated by The Atlantic.
2. It was, however, William Uricchio who introduced me to the Errol Morris film — "Gates of Heaven" — that might be my personal favorite documentary. Uricchio screened it as part of a film studies course I took at Penn State in the early 1990s.
3. Ebert writes of the 563-minute "Shoah": "It is not a documentary, not journalism, not propaganda, not political. It is an act of witness. In it, Claude Lanzmann celebrates the priceless gift that sets man apart from animals and makes us human, and gives us hope: the ability for one generation to tell the next what it has learned."
4. OK, I'll share a second piece by Ebert. Again, an unexpected one. His 2009 essay, "My Name is Roger, and I'm an alcoholic," is another must-read that has nothing to do with movies.

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful essay, thanks for highlighting it. Mr. Ebert captured the essence of a booklover's collection rationale: One day I may -- need is the word I use -- to read Finnegans Wake...

    My thoughts exactly.