Friday, March 25, 2011

Phantom Ebert

I saw "Ebert at the Movies" for the first time tonight... with its new, young movie critics sitting in for what appeared to be a "Phantom Roger Ebert" - no small irony for a man who focused his entire life on the greatest films of the 20th-21st centuries.

Growing up in Chicago on Siskel & Ebert, syndicated by the Chicago Sun-Times, my friends and I came to anticipate their reviews and though we didn't rely entirely upon them to tell us whether or not to see a film, we trusted their judgment.

No one could have predicted that Gene Siskel would suddenly die so young. (In 1998, Siskel underwent surgery for a tumor. He announced on February 3, 1999 that he was taking a leave of absence but that he expected to be back by the fall, writing "I'm in a hurry to get well because I don't want Roger to get more screen time than me.") Typical for Gene who was the perfect sidekick to Ebert.

After Siskel's death in 1999, Ebert teamed with Richard Roeper for the television series Ebert & Roeper & the Movies, which began airing in 2000. Although his name remained in the title, Ebert did not appear on the show after mid-2006, when he suffered post-surgical complications related to thyroid cancer which left him unable to speak.

Throughout his cancer treatment, he continued to be a dedicated critic of film, not missing a single opening while undergoing treatment. Ebert had pre-taped enough TV programs with his co-host Richard Roeper to keep him on the air for a few weeks.

Roger's face became unrecognizable and even horrifying... yet he didn't hide it. Much like Nigella Lawson's husband who was dying of throat cancer and couldn't even taste her feasts, Roger can't utter a word now and must rely on digital media and translators.

But those of us who remember he and Siskel bantering back and forth each and every week, his reviews are still Golden Globes, Oscars, Emmys, and continue to educate us about film history at its best. He may take leave as the Phantom of the Opera... but, unlike the phantom (for which Ebert, I'm sure would always prefer Lon Chaney's portrayal), he will never recoil from the spotlight. Roger won't haunt us like the phantom; he'll remain forever in our hearts as a great American icon in his own right.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Great English-American Screen Goddess, Elizabeth Taylor

Ever since yesterday morning, the media has inundated us with press about the passing of Elizabeth Taylor.  This is the best article I have read, because it actually mentions her children, who seem to have been forgotten all these years... at least from what I can recall, they're rarely in the press.  Read on about the life of the last of the greatest screen goddesses.  RIP, Liz!

I particularly enjoyed 'Cleopatra' because she was so ravishing in every costume.  I always wanted to decorate my house like those Egyptians!  And Richard Burton had great legs, too!  But I remember most 'The Sandpiper,' 'Butterfield 8' and 'Suddenly Last Summer' as her greatest acting roles.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Still Bill: Withers the American Dream

What a brilliant, moving documentary I had the privilege to watch today on Showtime.  We've all loved his music, we know the words by heart... but how many of us know what a wonderful American life Bill Withers has lived.  "Still Bill" is the story of a man who discovered his own talent relatively late in life (at 32) and proceeded to overcome being born with a speech impediment in the backhills of a West Virginia coal mining community. 

Bill Withers has a way with words and his poetry reflects a man wise beyond his own knowledge.  This film reveals a really nice guy - unpretentious, true to his own heart, real, a natural talent teaching us how to overcome the obstacles life may toss our way.  He found a way to go with the flow in his life - always staying positive and accepting of what comes his way... and, by the way, he gave us some of the most enduring R&B/pop songs in the history of American music.

STILL BILL is an intimate portrait of soul legend Bill Withers, best known for his classics “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean On Me,” “Lovely Day,” “Grandma’s Hands,” and “Just the Two of Us.” With his soulful delivery and warm, heartfelt sincerity, Withers has written the songs that have – and always will – resonate deeply within the fabric of our times. [more...]