There will be more eloquent eulogies for the great Roger Ebert than this, chronicling his "Siskel & Ebert" era, his ongoing battle over whether video games is art, his perseverance through cancer, and his voice without a voice.
Before there was bloggers, digital bootlegs, Rotten Tomatoes, internet streaming, VOD, meta-parodies, and social media, there was basically only three ways to know about a movie: literal word of mouth (my friends weren't film buffs), newspaper reviews (too busy playing video games), and "At the Movies". Not surprisingly, a show about movies appealed to me.
As a film-maker, you don't really learn how to tell a story until you've been taught the basics, read tons of scripts, watched tons of movies, and created something of your own over and over again. Their show didn't teach me how to be a good movie maker, but they taught me how NOT to be a bad/lazy writer, and steered me into watching titles I wouldn't dare to see and study.
As I followed their show, the post-Siskel incarnations, and his cancer, I wanted to know more, so I started reading his reviews and essays almost every week. His written voice (which was how he got started) flowed with insight, clarity and occasional snark. Writers like him and Bill Simmons taught me the joy of reading. As blogging became accesible, I was compelled (like everyone else) to blog myself, inadvertently helping me train my writing muscles.
(By the way, big shout out to Ebert for answering/posting my email question about Rotten Tomatoes during the early days of the site's inception.)
I'm very squeamish with human deformities. His inspiring and emotional TED Talk forced me to confront this. My respect and reverence for his reviews, writing, and openness overruled my fear of queasiness, and the reward was a glimpse into the ever wonderful promise of new technology and a glimpse into his daily post-surgery life, and Chaz, his wonderful loving wife.
Lastly, I can't thank him enough for recommending- nay, insisting -that we seek out Dark City. I remembered his enthusiasm, and when it was available for rent, I saw it for the first time. By the second watch, it was my favorite film of all time. It's not a perfect film with outdated computer graphics, but it inspired me with its film noir style, imaginative science-fiction themes, haunting twist reveals, unforgettable characters/performances, and imagination-expanding visuals (on a limited budget).
Thank you Roger Ebert. My dream of having one of my films get reviewed by you never came true, but you impacted my life more than any review could. You made me demand more out of movies, encouraged me enjoy reading/writing blogs, gave me a real-life underdog story, and opened my eyes to Alex Proyas' masterpiece. May you continue to watch/review/argue/cherish movies from the balcony in the sky with Siskel. And may you continue to the debate of video games as art up there as well.