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'Simple And Straighforward': Remembering Film Critic Roger Ebert


Murray, we're just hearing that film critic Roger Ebert has died. The Chicago Sun Times, Ebert's paper, tweeted the news a few moments ago. Ebert, of course, an icon of film criticism, a one-time filmmaker himself, best known perhaps for his days on TV with fellow critic Gene Siskel. Their thumbs up or thumbs down rating system now a de facto review method of critics and filmgoers alike.

In recent years, Ebert cut back on his work as he faced the series of bouts with cancer. Earlier this week he announced the leave of presence because of the latest recurrence. Back in 2011, Ebert talked with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED's Melissa Block and described life after major surgery on his throat.


ROGER EBERT: Over and over I would fantasize, that icy cold root beer. I yearned for the pleasure of it trickling down my throat. I knew that would never happen again.

CONAN: Surgery also changed the structure of his jaw and lower face, something he tried to keep a sense of humor about.


EBERT: I was advised not to be photographed looking like this. Well, it's how I look, and there's nothing I can do about it. We spend too much time as a society denying illness. It's a fact of life.

CONAN: Roger Ebert died today at age 70. Murray, you knew him.

MURRAY HORWITZ, BYLINE: I was privileged to have met Roger Ebert on a couple of occasions. And what you just heard through that voice box was who he was. I mean, he was just as simple and straightforward and straight from the shoulders to - to you when you met him as he was to his audiences on television. He had great taste. He - of course we disagree with him from time to time about films, but he loved what he did, and the courage that he showed at the end of his life was just exemplary and extraordinary. And he gets like five thumbs up.

CONAN: And with Gene Siskel he changed the business.

HORWITZ: He really did. It's a really good point, Neal. He - I mean now people really thought of film as an art. They really - all the sudden you heard discussions in, you know, Starbucks - well, even before then, you know, in McDonalds, that you would not hear about movies before.

CONAN: Yeah. Conversations that were once contained to, well, highbrow magazines.

HORWITZ: Right, right, right.

CONAN: Even the Village Voice - now on the street - everybody partaking of it.

HORWITZ: Everybody talked about, you know, framing the shot, everybody talked about the editing. And like the best broadcasting, you'll forgive me, like what you do here, it was entertainment but was also enlightenment. I mean he thought people a lot about film and what to look for when they went into a movie house. And he loved the movies.

CONAN: He love the movies, and I think that came across in everything he said and ever wrote about them. And, well, that magnified so much of what he said and talked about. Murray, thanks as always.

HORWITZ: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Murray Horwitz, NPR's favorite film buff with us here in Studio 3A. Of course more on the life and death of Roger Ebert later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. It's the TALK OF THE NATION for NPR News. Tomorrow, it's SCIENCE FRIDAY. We'll be with you again on Monday. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.