Two Thumbs Up For A Life Fully Lived

roger ebertSad News today. Roger Ebert died. He and Gene Siskel elevated movie reviews and cinema in general with “Sneak Previews,” then later “At the Movies.”

It all started locally in Chicago, then moved nationwide on PBS.

Back in their heyday Siskel and Ebert were invited to a convention of broadcast promotion directors. Among others, they reviewed a promo from Channel 8 featuring me. Two thumbs up.

Years later I separately thanked both of them. They both claimed to remember the spot.

You’re going to read a lot about Roger Ebert’s history over the next few days. I’d like to talk a little about his recent past.

Roger was first diagnosed with cancer in 2002 and underwent treatment. There were various stories, but in retrospect it’s obvious the cancer never went away. It slowly ate at the physical Roger Ebert.

In 2006, surgery on his jaw left him disfigured, without a voice or the ability to eat or drink.

I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris. – Roger Ebert in Esquire Magazine 2010.

There was a chance more surgery might have lengthened his life, but based on earlier surgery that backfired, he decided to do without.

Suffering a condition that would have stopped most of us, Roger Ebert continued his life and said fuck you&#185 to his cancer.

He remained a prolific film reviewer, mentioning a few days ago how he’d reviewed more films in 2012 than ever before.

He was even more prolific as a social commentator. Following his feed on Twitter was a gift. The same goes for his longer online musings. He always wrote, because he always had something to say.

The online world was perfect for Ebert. He embraced the freedom and reach it afforded him.

There is a Frank Sinatra song I remember from childhood. It came to mind as I began to write this.

I’m gonna live till I die! I’m gonna laugh ‘stead of cry,
I’m gonna take the town and turn it upside down,
I’m gonna live, live, live until I die.
They’re gonna say “What a guy!” I’m gonna play for the sky.
Ain’t gonna miss a thing, I’m gonna have my fling,
I’m gonna live, live, live until I die.

– I’m Gonna Live Till I Die by Hoffman, Kent and Curtis

Roger Ebert was 70.

The balcony is closed.

&#185 – That is a phrase I have never used on this blog, but I feel it is appropriate here to best describe Ebert’s attitude. I apologize to those offended. That is not my intention.

There’s More To Cagney’s Stair Dance Than Meets The Eye

How could Cagney be gutsy enough to do that? How could the studio allow the risk? There’s a story behind that and it too is on the Internet. The director didn’t know and Cagney never rehearsed it! What’s on the screen is take one!

Here’s where the Internet shines. It contains everything! Seriously.

Yesterday I watched a conversation on Twitter about “Yankee Doodle Dandy” being number 100 on the American Film institute’s top-100 movies of all time. That reminded me of a specific scene and of course it’s on YouTube which means it’s embeddable here.

If you’re not using the Internet as the world’s finest reference source you’re leaving cash on the table! But I digress.

I found the scene with Jimmy Cagney tap dancing down a staircase at the White House from Yankee Doodle Dandy and watched it… and then watched it again… and then again.

I know the film well because when I was a kid Channel 9 in New York City would play it twice a day for the entire July 4th week on Million Dollar Movie.

How could Cagney be gutsy enough to do that? How could the studio allow the risk? There’s a story behind that and it too is on the Internet. The director didn’t know and Cagney never rehearsed it! What’s on the screen is take one!

Here’s the story from Roger Ebert:

Cagney wasn’t a dancer by Astaire’s standards, or a singer by anybody’s, but he was such a good actor he could fake it: “Cagney can’t really dance or sing,” observes the critic Edwin Jahiel, “but he acts so vigorously that it creates an illusion, and for dance-steps he substitutes a patented brand of robust, jerky walks, runs and other motions.”

You can sense that in an impromptu scene near the end of the movie. Cagney’s Cohan is walking down a marble staircase at the White House when he suddenly starts tapping and improvises all the way to the bottom. Cagney later said he dreamed that up five minutes before the scene was shot: “I didn’t consult with the director or anything, I just did it.”

Ann Nyberg and I discussed this tonight at the TV station. She rightly points out back in those days a good story like the one Cagney told might be cut from whole cloth to add a little spice to a movie’s promotion. Maybe so, but I’m going to believe it anyway.

This 13 second clip might be the most ambitious and dangerous dance ever put on the screen.

We Saw “Easy A” Tonight

Foolishly as we sat in the theater waiting for the feature to start I checked Facebook and found a message about the movie from my sister. “I was disappointed.”

Every sign was pointing to this being a couch day. Not good. Saturday should be date night!

I went scrambling to figure out where to go. Helaine and I ended up in North Haven for a movie I don’t remember seeing a trailer or ad for! I did read an extremely positive review from Roger Ebert.

Good enough for me.

As we sat in the theater waiting for the feature to start I foolishly checked Facebook on my iPhone and found a message about the movie from my sister.

I was disappointed.

Uh oh. The coming attractions hadn’t started to play yet and we were already doomed.

As it turns out my sister is wrong! Sorry Trudi.

I’ll tell you about “Easy A” in a moment. First though Stanley Tucci who was in the movie.

I want to grow up to be Stanley (even though he’s ten years my junior). I have yet to see him in a movie where I didn’t like his character or the real Stanley that always shows through. He’s charming on-screen. Charming is good.

OK, movie time.

“Easy A” is the story of a high school girl, Olive, who is never noticed until word gets out she’s sleeping around. The rumor’s not true. Even worse it’s Olive who is spreading it!

In this age of computers and texting rumors spread at the speed of light. It didn’t take long for everyone to know. Surprisingly, being a bad girl made Olive a more popular girl… at least in the short term.

Part of what made the movie so much fun was what made it unreal. It’s incredibly well written.

Everyone was witty. Everyone was clever. There was a sharply worded rapid response in every situation.

I wish life was really like that. It isn’t. OK, mine isn’t. That’s jealousy speaking.

In his review Roger Ebert says this movie makes Emma Stone a star. He’s right.

At one point I turned to Helaine to tell her how much Emma Stone reminded me of Lindsay Lohan. “Without the baggage,” she said.

Yeah, without the baggage.

She’s in virtually every scene and never wears out her welcome. Having Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as her warm and cleverly ditzy parents doesn’t hurt either.

Good movie. Glad we went.