Friday, February 12, 2010

Ebert and Me



Apparently, Roger Ebert has decided that he will finally cease using the term “teabaggers” and will now focus his seething liberal rage on Sarah Palin.



If you’ve not been following this increasingly nasty hissy fit the Pulitzer-winning film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times has been throwing, you’ve missed one of the stranger liberal rhetorical meltdowns in at least 12 minutes. It started at his Twitter feed, grew to include Big Hollywood and Big Journalism, and now that Sarah Palin’s on his radar, I thought a few words from a long-time Ebert fan and strong supporter of Sarah Palin were in order.



Aside from using the pornographic term to describe the vast swath of Americans who have been attending tea party protests, Ebert has equated Gov. Palin’s critical thinking skills with a squirrel doing algebra and has now bought into the already-debunked smear regarding the bracelet Palin wears with her deployed son’s name on it (Big Journalism’s Correction Alpaca has requested a retraction, but as of early this afternoon, he’s still not relented).



Regarding the ‘bagger bit, Pam Meister at Big Hollywood threw the smack down, then John Nolte threw it harder by pointing out (in a humane piece that’s more or less an open letter to Ebert) that there’s something sad about a liberal millionaire mocking hundreds of thousands of working class people and small business owners protesting runaway government spending. Nolte invited Ebert to join him for one of the tea party events, noting that he wouldn’t be harmed, and instead would likely be approached by people who wanted to tell him they’d been praying for him during his battle with cancer, and those who would naturally want his autograph.



Ebert’s response via Twitter? “Can you imagine validating yourself by writing for the kinds of people who post these comment [sic] Scroll down [sic]” and then he posted a link to Nolte’s original piece. To which the Internet responded, “Liberals might want to be careful when critiquing comments on blogs when one has just been publicly called out for calling everyday Americans ‘teabaggers.’”



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Politics aside for a moment, this saddens me, as Roger Ebert was an early hero and role model for me as a budding cinephile, writer and critic. I own 10 sequential editions of Ebert’s annual review yearbook, as well as Roger Ebert’s Book of Film and I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie, a collection of his best pans. I can still quote from many of Ebert’s reviews (his observation that having Michael Bay’s Godzilla open the Cannes Film Festival as being the equivalent of “…hosting a Satanic ritual at St. Peter’s Basillica…” is probably the funniest line ever written about any film), and many of his essays are pure art (I’d point you to his archives to read his reviews of The Last Tango in Paris, Apocalypse Now, and The Godfather Part II just to give you an idea of how, even before he and Gene Siskel had their television show, he was already making a great name for himself – Ebert earned his Pulitzer in a day when the Pulitzer meant something). His interview with Kim Bassinger regarding her role in the beautiful but extremely controversial film 9 ½ Weeks is for me the gold standard of a critic interviewing an actress.



From Ebert’s writing, I was introduced to films and directors most people don’t discover until late in high school or college, and I was probably the only eighth-grader in southern Oklahoma who’d seen most of Fellini’s “important” work. Through Ebert, I also found directors who I probably never would have found otherwise – Russ Meyer and Peter Greenaway, to name two. Watching the Ebert-scripted, Meyer directed Beyond the Valley of the Dolls used to be an annual rite for me. Ebert also gives a great deal back to amateur film buffs with events like Ebertfest.



Ebert’s politics were clear in his reviews, and that never bothered me a whit. Even earlier than his declaring Dirty Harry an endorsement of fascism, it’s never been hard to glean the man’s politics, and I don’t begrudge him that.



I emailed him a few times in the mid-1990s, and if I asked a question he would always respond with an answer. Long before it was common for famous writers to give fans and admirers access to them beyond a “letter to the editor,” Ebert interacted with his readership. Before email, Ebert’s column regularly featured “Questions for the Movie Answer Man,” where Ebert would answer reader-submitted questions about the movies.



After the 2000 election, Ebert changed. Before 9/11, he wrote a scathing piece about Pres. Bush, and I sent him an email saying that it was disappointing that he’d decided to get political, that many of us don’t care about his political opinions, we care about his thoughts on movies. Ebert was quick to reply, and sent back a thin-skinned, white-hot flame. That was the end of my being a fan of Roger Ebert.



The only time I read his reviews are when Quentin Tarantino has a new movie out, because like me, Ebert is a huge Tarantino fan. I still respect his views on movies and I couldn’t be happier that it appears he’s won his battle with cancer, but I have lost all respect for him as a person. When it comes to Gov. Palin and the Tea Party movement, Ebert is the deceitful critic who pans the movie before he even sees it because he’s already made up his mind that he’s going to hate it.



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In a few short days, Ebert has managed to lose whatever was left of his being a sympathetic figure by smearing Gov. Palin and the hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of American life who are freely (and non-violently) exercising their First Amendment right to speak up and to protest. Yes, there are a few kooks in the crowds, but most are not. I don’t know why Roger Ebert hates Sarah Palin – he doesn’t strike me as a misogynist, but ridiculing the intelligence of such an accomplished woman is certainly sexist.



What is particularly sad is that like Palin, Ebert comes from a working class background and graduated from a state school, The University of Illinois. Just as Gov. Palin worked her way up from City Council to Mayor to Governor to VP nominee, Ebert was the editor of his college newspaper. He started out as a writer for the Chicago Daily News, and when the Sun-Times’s film critic left, Ebert took the job that would establish him as the most famous – and after the death of Pauline Kael, the most influential – film critic in the country. Like Palin, he too worked hard, caught a few breaks and made the best of every opportunity afforded him. With this in mind, it only makes his elitist pose against Palin and the Tea Party movement all the more surreal. For a guy who has repeatedly referenced growing up in Urbana in his posts over the years, he sure does seem to despise the middle class.



If Sarah Palin were the main character in a movie, Ebert would give it four stars, and if in that film Palin was a liberal, that film would win Titanic-esque Oscars. I was thinking, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be great if Roger Ebert had reviewed a film whose plot was about a woman being nominated for Vice President, a woman who was immediately attacked by the opposition party on inflammatory, sexual grounds even though everyone knows they’re attacking her only because she’s a woman? Wouldn't it be better if a writer at Conservatives4Palin also happened to be a long-time, well-read fan of Roger Ebert's?’



In 2000, Ebert gave four stars to “The Contender” and said that Joan Allen’s performance as the VP nominee was one of the best of the year. Allow me to quote liberally from his review and tell me if any of this sounds remotely familiar (bolded emphasis mine, please read the whole review here):



Hanson looks like the best choice. She is happily married, has a young child, and when we first see her is having robust sex (on a desktop) with her husband. Runyon, the Oldman character, doubts any woman should be trusted with the nuclear trigger: What if she has her period or something? He is delighted with evidence she may have been the life of the party on campus … The movie's story of confirmation hearings, backstage politics and rival investigations unfolds as a political thriller based on suspense and issues. Sen. Hanson flatly refuses to answer any questions about her sexual past, and for a time it looks as if the president may have to dump her as a nominee. Is she really taking an ethical stand, or covering up something?"The Contender" does take sides, most obviously in the character of the GOP representative Runyon, who is played by Oldman as an unprincipled power broker with an unwholesome curiosity about other people's sex lives. Whether you are in sympathy with the movie may depend on which you found more disturbing: The questions of the Starr commission, or Clinton's attempts to avoid answering them. Full disclosure: I could imagine myself reacting as Clinton did, but to ask Starr's questions would have filled me with self-disgust. Oldman is one of the great actors, able to play high, low, crass, noble. Here he disappears into the character, with owly glasses, a feral mouth and curly locks teased over baldness … Of course, if he is right about Hanson, then he is not a bad man--merely an unpleasant one. But even if he is right, he is wrong, because he opposed the nominee because she is a woman; her shady past is only a means of attacking her.



Roger Ebert should be ashamed of himself, but that would require a sense of shame. What an elitist hypocrite, incapable of self-examination or the possibility that a Conservative woman could actually be intelligent and bring something to the table.


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Cross-posted here at my home site.

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