The passing of film critic Roger Ebert got me thinking about how the movie criticism business has changed over the years. Many of those who commented in the media about Ebert’s death also made the point that Ebert’s style of movie criticism died with him.

Indeed as Michael Medved said on CNN’s Reliable Sources, while critics like himself and Rex Reed are still earning a living, they are no longer the social forces they once were. As one who watches movies obsessively I will miss film criticism if it ever goes completely away. I don’t know how many times Ebert saved me five bucks and two hours of my life.

Ebert’s brand of criticism was more working class than cerebral, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a terrific writer. Just weeks ago he savagely deconstructed the film “Movie 43” starring Halle Barrie with cameos from more than a dozen A-list stars. Ebert wrote, As the ads for “Movie 43” promised (threatened?), you can’t un-see this thing, so please: Stay away. Even if you might think that sitting through “Movie 43” would be an adventure along the lines of experiencing “Showgirls” or “Howard the Duck,” you’ll be filled with regret five minutes into this atrocity. There’s camp-fun bad and interestingly horrible bad, and then there’s just awful. “Movie 43” is the “Citizen Kane” of awful. 

Although I found Ebert a reliable guide most of the time, I did occasionally disagree with him. Ebert really liked “Lincoln”. Me, not so much. It was a good movie, but like many movies based on well-documented people and events, it was forced to stick to actual words spoken, and the way educated people talked in 1865 seems stilted today. The best scene was at the end when the Thaddeus Stevens character played by Tommy Lee Jones (who adds value to anything he is in) takes off his wig and jumps into bed with his black housekeeper played by another favourite, S. Epetha Merkerson of Law and Order Fame; and in so doing partially explains his passion for emancipation.

In old Hollywood when they did biography, they would cobble together one or two well known facts and make the rest of it up. Thinking about Ebert prompted me to check out the late, great New Yorker critic Pauline Kael’s work of which I am ashamed to confess I had scant exposure. She wrote a 7,000-word critique extolling the film Bonnie and Clyde. All I can say about Kael is that if you fancy yourself as a writer and for some masochistic reason have a need to feel really inadequate, read her stuff.

Back to Ebert, his passing leaves us with critic Leonard Maltin, who, aided by a team of writer researchers provides mini-critiques of every movie ever made. Maltin is usually reliable but he is tone-deaf when it comes to British movies. I don’t think he understands the lingo and always gives them fewer stars than I would.

Anyway, here at the Bay Observer we still believe in movie reviewing. I look forward to Alex Reynolds’ elegant writing each month. When I first met Alex, we were at a radio station in Brantford, me in news, he hosting an easy listening FM show.

I recall walking by the studio and hearing Alex doing a live interview with Jazz icon Mel Torme. I was impressed. I later found out Alex’s address book also contained phone numbers for the likes of Milton Berle. As a young broadcaster Alex was one of a stable of announcers who hosted a live CBC show from the old Brant Inn and in that role got to meet jazz royalty — the likes of Stan Kenton, Ella Fitzgerald, Bennie Goodman and others. When I went to CHCH one of the first things I did was add Alex to the crew as a reviewer. Since then he has been adding a touch of class to Hamilton airwaves, and more recently to this publication.

John Best has had a lengthy media management career, in television and radio and now print. As Vice President, News at CHCH in Hamilton, John oversaw a significant expansion of the news operation. He founded Independent Satellite News, Canada’s only television news service providing national content to Canadian independent TV stations. John is a frequent political commentator on radio and television, a documentary producer and author of a book and numerous articles on historical and political subjects. John is a past recipient of the New York Festival’s award for writing in the International TV category.

One Comment to: Few left to follow Roger Ebert

  1. Tony

    April 20th, 2013

    Actually, John, it wasn’t exactly one of the first things you did, but certainly a good hire. CKPC’s loss was definitely CHCH’s gain.


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