Roger Ebert Memorial: Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog and More Remember 'The Good Soldier of Cinema'
When I won the Independent Spirit Award [for best first feature], I saw that he was there across the room, and I spent a good part of my speech talking about what he had done for the film -- how every time it looked like the film was down for the count, Roger Ebert would speak up for it and do something to keep it alive. When I said that he in particular was someone who had always given this kind of support to smaller, independent films, the room gave him a standing ovation.
I met him for the first time that night, and we had a wonderful moment. I wish that I knew how to give back more to someone like him. He was the critic whose thoughts I most wanted to hear on my work, and I’m sad that he won’t be around for that next time.
Virginia Madsen, Actress
I first met Roger in 1986. He interviewed my mother, Elaine, brother Michael and me for a story in the Sun-Times titled, “Mother Madsen’s Dream Comes True.” This was big-time for me. This meant real success. Roger Ebert interviewing us? Wow. We all gathered at Elaine’s apartment just off Wells Street on Burton Way. Roger was just like you’d hoped he would be. Engaging, intelligent ... and that laugh! It was very exciting for me, and I tried to stay cool. I had a habit of tousling my hair and giggling when nervous, and that was not at all who I wanted to be at the time. Roger didn’t seem to mind. He had a way of looking right into your eyes and drawing out who you really were. I knew he didn’t see me as a “bombshell” -- which is how I was being labeled at the time -- or Michael as a villain or my mother as just another pretty face. He just saw us as a Midwestern family that against all odds had made it out. I asked him why he wanted to interview us. He said, “I see something in you. I think you’re unusual. You are all filmmakers, and I guess I wanted to know why. I think you are all going to do some very important things.” Young and passionate, I tried not to be silly and start crying, but I might have, just a bit. When someone believes in you, you remember that for a lifetime.
Many years later, when it was my turn at the Oscars, Roger was a champion for the film Sideways. He was cheering me on all throughout the awards season for my best supporting actress nomination. I got to hug him before and after the big show. He knew how far I’d come. He knew how much I’d been through. I still felt like a starlet next to him, only now I had a thicker skin. He still had his great laugh. Even when that sound was taken from him and he would write on a small notepad, you could still hear that laugh.
Lee Daniels, Filmmaker
Roger was really supportive of all of my films, as a producer and a director. I got a chance to meet him several times and hang with him and his beautiful wife, too. Sometimes people are mean-spirited when they review your films, and with Roger, he found the good in my movies. I was blessed I didn’t get his thumbs-down, even with films that were not necessarily celebrated in Hollywood. He got me as a filmmaker. He was just a wonderful human being, a kind soul. Critics are set up to just jump on you. You put a year and a half of life into something for critics to just attack. But he wanted to like all movies. He was looking forward to enjoying a film; that’s how he began his critic’s process. I held his opinion in high regard. He will be sorely missed.
Werner Herzog, Filmmaker
Four decades back, at the time I was releasing my film Aguirre: The Wrath of God, he was very enthusiastic about it and very helpful about it because he put it on his list -- I think it was the 10 best of all time -- and it opened somehow the curiosity of American audiences.
We did not meet very often. I can’t even say we were real friends because we did not see each other often enough. But we had a different understanding about cinema, and we had a very deep respect for each other’s work. That was more what connected us.
I always kept talking about him as the good soldier of cinema, because he started to call me that, and I said, “No, it fits you much better.” The last 10 years, he was a wounded soldier. But I always have a deep admiration for those who soldier on until there is no breath left in them.
He had a deep understanding of the elements of cinema. He was always looking for a stratum of truth, a silver lining of truth and how to accomplish it.
I was asked if his writing informed my films. No, it did not. Did the fact that we were in friends in a way change the course of my life? The answer is no. But knowing him made it better.
His demise marks the end of an epoch. I’m speaking of an epoch where we had serious discourse about film.
There was a fire within many people to talk about and write about and discuss movies. All this in the last two decades, all this has irrevocably and inexorably shifted into celebrity news. You can see that in print and on television. Siskel & Ebert doesn’t exist. The replacement now is celebrity news. In the print media, one newspaper after another abandons its critics. They’re being replaced by celebrity news. It’s not just the invention of the media. It’s a big cultural shift. It has to do with audiences, it has to do with a massive, overwhelming trend. Because of that, Roger marked an epoch, which is not completely but is almost very much over.