Thumbs up to America’s foremost film critic. Tomorrow night, recovering cancer patient Roger Ebert will demonstrate he’s the class act of journalism when he attends his 9th annual “Overlooked Film Festival” at the University of Illinois at Urbana. He awaits another surgery to restore his speech. But the Chicago Sun-Times and TV film critic won’t have to say a word to demonstrate his tremendous courage not to hide his illness. “I have received a lot of advice that I should not attend the festival,” he writes. “I’m told that paparazzi will take unflattering pictures, people will be unkind, etc. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
To me, this writer whom I’ve swapped emails with looks great — even if “I ain’t a pretty boy no more,” he says, paraphrasing a line from Raging Bull. (“Not that I ever was. The original appeal of Siskel & Ebert was that we didn’t look like we belonged on TV.”) Ebert still has what’s most important: “my brain and my typing fingers”. He does see one enormous benefit by being handicapped right now: “At least, not being able to speak, I am spared the need to explain why I wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” I grew fond of the film critic when we sparred over Brokeback Mountain vs Crash for Oscar and ended up liking one another. My LA Weekly column, How Gay Will Oscar Go, kicked it off, then I elaborated. Ebert took issue, then I responded. But I gave Ebert the last word.