This is the first part of a two-part interview with film critic and author Roger Ebert.
As far as I am concerned, Roger Ebert is a national treasure. The long-time syndicated critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and author of several books writes film reviews and criticism, but in layman’s language. His work has earned him a Pulitzer Prize. Getting the chance to interview him made my summer.
I could go on and on about what he means to me, but maybe I'll save those thoughts for a later piece. For now let's just say that I'm a huge fan and this is a great thrill.
Ebert has been recovering from cancer, and while he hasn’t returned to the airwaves yet on a regular basis, he is once again writing reviews and agreed to answer some questions via email.
Ebert has used his popularity and influence for good causes, speaking out against the seriously screwed-up rating system of the Motion Picture Association of America, fighting email spam, and championing relatively unknown movie directors. He was also somewhat responsible for encouraging Oprah Winfrey to get her program syndicated (and the rest is history).
The second part of this interview will focus on some of Ebert’s negative movie reviews and his latest book, Your Movie Sucks.
How did you go from writing science fiction and poetry to writing the infamous Beyond the Valley of the Dolls to reviewing films?
In 1966 I was a PHD candidate in English at the University of Chicago, working part-time at the Sun-Times, and when the movie critic retired, they offered me the job. I only wrote two SF short stories, one sold to Amazing, the other to Fantastic, after I was already a film critic. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was also written after I became a critic, so it all began from there.
How do you decide what to review? Or, put another way, how do you choose what NOT to review? As you've noted, you may not be the person to review, for example, a story aimed at girls.
Before my illness I reviewed more or less as many films as I could, period. There is really no such thing as the “right person,” since everybody is the right person to write his or her review.
Do you feel any responsibility to be impartial in your reviews? Is objectivity possible or even desirable?
I am always subjective. Objectivity has nothing to do with critical opinion. Critics are paid to be subjective.
Do moviemakers have a moral obligation or should entertainment be their only concern?