I often learn of breaking news on Twitter, but it was an email alert from The New York Times that delivered the sad news after I got back from a meeting. It was shocking because I along with thousands had read only the day before of Ebert's "Leave of presence," talking about pulling back from the grind of weekly reviewing, but with a long list of other projects he would still be doing.
As dire as his health was, he was able to write to the very last. Such a fitting end for a blogger.
The Twitter Voice
Ebert's 2010 post about the revolution Twitter brought to his life is one of my all-time favorite pieces of writing. I have pointed many, many people to it as the best explanation for how & why smart people tweet.
"I vowed I would never become a Twit. Now I have Tweeted nearly 10,000 Tweets. I said Twitter represented the end of civilization. It now represents a part of the civilization I live in. I said it was impossible to think of great writing in terms of 140 characters. I have been humbled by a mother of three in New Delhi."
Tweeting had extra specific benefit for the man who had lost his voice and jaw to cancer:
"Twitter for me performs the function of a running conversation. For someone who cannot speak, it allows a way to unload my zingers and one-liners. One of the problems with written notes and computer voices is that, by their nature, their timing doesn't work. I used to have good timing. Now in real life a conversation will be whizzing along and a line will pop into my head and by the time I write it down and get someone to read it, the moment and the context will have disappeared."
I loved knowing that tweeting—something that many unenlightened still look down upon—could help restore to the critic what nature had so cruelly taken away.
And I loved his tweets, that distinct voice that spoke of his reviews, New Yorker cartoon contest entries, poetry, and wry commentary on current events.
The Blog Voice
From "The leave of presence"
"At the same time, I am re-launching the new and improved Rogerebert.com and taking ownership of the site under a separate entity, Ebert Digital, run by me, my beloved wife, Chaz, and our brilliant friend, Josh Golden of Table XI. Stepping away from the day-to-day grind will enable me to continue as a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, and roll out other projects under the Ebert brand in the coming year."
Some of my favorite posts were of his Catholic upbringing in Illinois. He wrote "How I am a Roman Catholic" on March 1, after Benedict's helicopter flew out of sight.
More about his reveals in that piece later.
The First Voice
And then there was his actual speaking voice. Which I had forgotten about until we pulled a short clip from Sneak Previews, 1980. You can still see it on the homepage at paleycenter.org [click the billboard to the third clip with the arrow, or enjoy the Abbott & Costello meet Charles Laughton and the Sesame Street clips first].
When I heard Ebert's speaking voice after so many years I was reminded of the distinct quick-fire cadence of his words, which was most delicious when he didn't like something.
Here's the clip where he reviews 1980 film Windows:
. . . that scene is the beginning of a relationship where they eventually fall in love, another one of those situations where the cop falls in love with the victim.
It's hard to say what I dislike the most about Windows: the ugliness of its violence or the stupidity of its plot which is a totally unbelievable combination of jealously, voyeurism, and sadism that goes on and on and unforgivingly.
If there is anything worse than a thriller with a completely unbelievable twist at the end it's a thriller with no twist at all.
Singing for the Silenced Voice
The poignancy and power of tweeting means that 843,159 people will miss Roger Ebert on a daily basis. That's an extraordinary thing.
In his March 1 post Ebert wrote:
"I consider myself Catholic, lock, stock and barrel, with this technical loophole: I cannot believe in God. I refuse to call myself a atheist however, because that indicates too great a certainty about the unknowable."
Now he knows. Requiem aeterna.
The In Paradisum from the great Faure Requiem, King College Choir.
In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.
May angels lead you into paradise; upon your arrival, may the martyrs receive you and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem. May the ranks of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, once the poor man, may you have eternal rest.