In the fall of 2010, I lived an hour away from Chicago and Roger Ebert was busy doing book signings sporadically around the city. The combination of events that eventually led to my husband and I driving on a tweet-whim up to a Barnes and Noble in Naperville still makes my head spin, so I’ll keep to the main event.
While my husband drove, I started to over analyze the encounter we were about to have. Roger Ebert has become THE film critic in my eyes. I had read his reviews all my life, whenever I got the chance in Indianapolis, and religiously since college. As I chugged along on my Best Picture Project journey, I often compared my reviews to his. Many times we praised or expressed scorn on the same ideas, but I often felt my work looked like playdough creations while his were marble statues.
My husband asked the question I was too meek to ask myself, “Are you going to tell Ebert about your blog?” I wanted to. To turn this into a cheesy movie metaphor, Roger Ebert is to Julia Child if this were a Julie/Julia scenario. A professor of mine always encouraged us young writers to find a more experienced writer to emulate and find inspiration from. When I am writing about film, it is always Ebert I emulate. I strive for intelligence, a truthful and professional sense of wit and a tone that can tastefully bear bits of heart, soul and emotion. It would be a waste not to tell Ebert about my blog.
However, with Ebert’s inability to talk, this conversation was going to be extremely one sided. I may have stressed this in previous posts, but I am not a confident talker. Immediately, I feared I would sound like a babbling idiot in my one chance to meet the writer that keeps me grounded and inspired as I moved my blog along.
At the bookstore, the moment Roger arrived was a sweet and moving site for all of us there to see him. He moved slowly, wearing a black turtleneck, his gaping, jawless mouth only slightly jarring in that first moment. His wife, Chaz, walked alongside him, for support that looked as much moral as it was physical. When he noticed the crowd of people waiting for him, his eyes lit up in a sincere smile of gratitude. He moved through the line of people, shook each of our hands and we introduced ourselves to him as if we were meeting at a dinner party.
When it was my turn to get my copy of The Great Movies III signed, I was my usual nervous and awkward self. At first, I just kinda froze and watched as he signed my book. It was like that moment with Santa in A Christmas Story, I was blowing it, blowing it! Then I caught myself, and unleashed a torrent of word vomit on the greatest film critic of our time. To this day, I’m not sure exactly what I told him, I’m sure it included that I was trying to watch all the Best Picture nominations and write about them in a blog. You know, the gist of all this.
It was enough to get him to look up, with an excited interest in his eyes. Immediately, Chaz picked up on it and asked me questions. I explained more about it, the goal, how far I had gone so far. One thing hard about this conversation was trying to talk to both Chaz and Roger at the same time. It is only natural to focus on the voice replying, I was afraid of Roger becoming a third wheel to the conversation. Soon Roger gestured for a pen and I wrote down the website. Before I left, I babbled some form of extreme thanks and he gave me two thumbs up. Arguably the best thumbs up in recent history.
As my husband and I headed to the car, I opened my book to see what Roger had written. Honestly, I did not expect to see these words of encouragement and validation, “Start at the top.”
Happy birthday Mr. Roger Ebert! Thanks for the encouragement and all the inspiration over the years.