Every week, I will shine the spotlight on some of the best storytelling in the business and offer my comments. “3 Great Stories of the Week” will post every Monday at 8 AM.
I am breaking formula with the 3 Great Stories segment this week in a few ways.
One: Only one of the three stories was published this week.
Two: Every story was written by the same person.
Three: That person is no longer alive.
I loved Roger Ebert for the same reasons most did: he reviewed movies in an accessible way, and he authored reviews that stood out on their own merit as great writing. I decided to honor his passing by posting three of my favorite Ebert pieces. Only one, by the way, is a movie review.
Casablanca (9/15/96, Chicago Sun-Times): Casablanca may be my favorite movie of all-time. Ebert’s review of Casablanca may be my favorite movie review of all-time.
(Truth be told: I really do not keep track of movie reviews. I only remember maybe a handful I have read. This is one.)
This review is unique in that it was written in retrospect; Ebert wrote the piece more than a half-century after Casablanca premiered. As such, he writes about the movie in an atypically analytical way; he clearly has watched the movie numerous times, and he breaks down scenes and performances on a much grander scale.
I simply love his use of language here. Ebert refers to the film’s plot as “a trifle to hang the emotions on”; he says the movie “plays more like a musical album”. He writes with affection about a classic film, and as a result he authors a classic review.
My name is Roger, and I’m an alcoholic (8/25/09, Chicago Sun-Times): Here is a piece you may not previously read. Ebert tells you right away, “In August 1979, I took my last drink.” Then he discusses his struggles with getting clean and his meetings at Alcoholics Anonymous.
It is revealing, sobering (pardon the pun), and beautiful.
My thoughts upon reading this piece echo the first comment that appears underneath the article:
“Mr. Ebert, you may be a ‘movie critic’, but you’re also a very good writer / essayist. Thank you for writing about what strikes your fancy. It’s appreciated.”
A Leave of Presence (4/2/13, Chicago Sun-Times): What an eerie swan song. And yet, what a fitting swan song.
This is Ebert’s final column, and he did not intend it to be, even though it is essentially a farewell piece. Ebert details his plans to leave the Sun-Times, move to his own blog, write less about movies but more about the movies he wants to review, and speak about the many health problems affecting him in his later years.
As usual, he writes with grace and poise. And if you want to see the impact Ebert had, check out the hundreds of comments below the article. So many of them came before Ebert passed away, when the commenters thought they were only saying good-bye to him in one sense.
One can only hope Ebert knew how much he was appreciated.
Have a suggestion for “3 Great Stories of the Week”? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.