Magnolia Pictures acquired the Sundance documentary Life Itself, which covered the life of beloved film critic Roger Ebert. Steve James of Hoop Dreams fame directed the picture, which is being eyed for summer release followed by a broadcast …
“I think I am so fortunate to have had one of the greatest love stories,” Chaz Ebert emotionally told the crowd tonight at the Sundance Film Festival world premiere screening of the biographical documentary about her late …
EXCLUSIVE: Too often, I reveal projects I feel like I’ve seen before. Occasionally, I write about ones that I know I’m going to want to see. Here’s one of those. How about a feature about the unusual relationship between two icons in their respective fields, film critic Roger Ebert and soft core helmer Russ Meyer, as they teamed to make Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls at 20th Century Fox? Mark Amin’s Sobini Films has partnered with David Permut and Richard Waltzer to acquire Russ & Roger Go Beyond, a script by Emmy-winning Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons scribe Christopher Cluess.
The script focus is the late 1960s, when cheap counterculture films like Easy Rider were minting money, and 20th Century Fox was struggling mightily over a number of big-budget flops. Meyer was already established as the outlaw helmer of soft-core pulp films like Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill, and he wanted the legitimacy of making a studio film. Richard Zanuck, then head of 20th, gave him that opportunity because his profit margins were so high and his costs were miniscule.
Meyer agreed to take on Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls on the condition that the script get written by Ebert, who, as the third-string movie critic of the Chicago Sun Times, had written one of the few positive reviews Meyer had ever received. So obviously he liked Roger’s writing. It was all fun from there, as Meyer brought in his usual buxom brigade and he and Ebert struggled with the studio’s board of directors and the ratings board. Despite being the rare major studio release with an X rating, they were vindicated when Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls was released in 1970 to big box office. Meyer and Ebert remained friends until the former passed away in 2004. Ebert, who passed away this year from cancer — he kept writing right till the end — was touchingly feted at the Toronto Film Festival opening-night ceremony before the premiere of The Fifth Estate.
The late film critic Roger Ebert and award-winning Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler were the honorees at last night’s third annual Celebrate Sundance Institute event at The Lot in Hollywood. Ebert’s widow Chaz was on hand to accept the Vanguard Leadership Award for her husband, who died April 4 but had hoped to attend in person. The Sundance Institute announced that the Roger Ebert Scholarship For Film Criticism would be established in order to promote ”passionate and articulate aspiring young film critics” in the legendary critic’s memory. Sundance founder Robert Redford presented the award to Chaz Ebert and recounted his own personal connection to Roger. Redford recalled meeting him in 1980, right as the actor-director was starting to formulate plans for the development of the Sundance Lab, even before the Festival was started several years later. Ebert, there as a journalist, was interested in covering the beginnings of the Sundance Lab, which would foster independent film.
Listen to (and share) episode 21 of our audio podcast Deadline Awards Watch With Pete Hammond. Our awards columnist and host David Bloom talk about the passing of Roger Ebert, perhaps the most influential film critic ever, and what it means to be a film critic in an era of Rotten Tomatoes, Reddit and Twitter. Pete also looks at what he thinks is a lock for the Cannes Film Festival, a film that will be vying for Emmy rather than Oscar glory, and reports on Tom Cruise’s premiere-night effort to help ensure the name of sci-fi epic Oblivion, opening overseas this weekend, doesn’t become the film’s fate. Pete also talks about this week’s movie debuts as the Jackie Robinson biopic 42 swings for the fences, and platform releases Disconnect and To The Wonder by director Terence Malick try to connect with audiences.
A funeral for late Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert will be held Monday at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral. The service, open to the public, will begin at 10 AM for friends and fans. A memorial tribute has also been set for April 11 for the Pulitzer Prize-winning …
Certainly Roger Ebert will be remembered for many things. Winning an unprecedented Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for film criticism is just one of them. For me, though, beyond that distinction Roger was far more unique in the pantheon of the truly great critics of our time, and all time. Along with Gene Siskel he figured out a way to take film criticism to the masses in a way it never really had been, at least on a national basis. With their patented ’2 Thumbs Up’ and ’2 Thumbs Down’ reviews on their pioneering PBS and later syndicated weekly TV show, this pair not only brought the job of a film critic into the national consciousness, they also made it fun. And accessible. The ‘thumbs’ signature was really the forerunner of a site like Rotten Tomatoes, an instantly recognizable label that moviegoers could use like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval when it appeared in an ad as it did hundreds of times.
Related: Reactions To Roger Ebert’s Death
Unlike so many critics today Roger Ebert loved movies, even when he hated them, an attribute so many of today’s self-absorbed so-called critics greatly lack. In fact one of my favorite personal Ebert memories happened at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival at a mid-day screening of Vincent Gallo’s unwatchable The Brown Bunny. Not only did he call it then the worst movie in the festival’s history, he added, “I have not seen every film in the history of the festival, yet I feel my judgement will stand”. At one excruciating point in the film he even started singing “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” out loud, eliciting laughter from what was left of the audience at that point. I wondered at the time “now who has the chutzpah to do that?” only to find it was Roger.
In addition to the flood of Twitter posts on the passing of film critic Roger Ebert today — Ebert was a huge presence on the social media site with more than 800,000 followers — condolences are coming in from all corners, including from fellow Chicagoan President Obama. We’ll post more as we get them:
Related: Roger Ebert – An Appreciation
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President Barack Obama:
Michelle and I are saddened to hear about the passing of Roger Ebert. For a generation of Americans — and especially Chicagoans — Roger was the movies. When he didn’t like a film, he was honest; when he did, he was effusive — capturing the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical. Even amidst his own battles with cancer, Roger was as productive as he was resilient — continuing to share his passion and perspective with the world. The movies won’t be the same without Roger, and our thoughts and prayers are with Chaz and the rest of the Ebert family.
AFI President Bob Gazzale
Roger Ebert championed the art of the moving image and by the courage of his personal example demonstrated how much movies matter. On behalf of all of us who love the movies – thumbs up, Roger – for a life well lived and our heart-felt thanks for all the gifts you will continue to give us as time goes by.
Randolph Kret, Indican Pictures
We at Indican Pictures are deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Roger Ebert. For a generation of filmgoers Roger was the voice they could trust — like a family member who would tell you if he didn’t like a film or praise it when he did. For us, he was an early supporter who critiqued our small films which helped us gain a national voice, a gift we will always be grateful for. The two words that sum up our experiences with Roger Ebert — were grace and passion. He was a passionate man about films and their impact on our lives and he so loved to share that passion with all of us. Having battled cancer myself I have some understanding of the battles he survived, but I could never match the grace, poise and good humor that he exhibited during such trying times. The movies won’t be the same without Roger, our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Chaz and the rest of the Ebert family. In closing we leave you with a line from one of Roger’s guilty pleasures: A line from The Mummy – “Death is only the beginning”. Roger – we look forward to your next act.
DGA president Taylor Hackford:
“From the mightiest blockbuster to the smallest independent film, Roger Ebert devoted his career to sharing his love of film with generations of moviegoers. The role of critics is to call them as they see them and Roger did so with integrity. In more than four decades of honest review of our films, Roger demanded excellence — but recognized directorial achievements. For his dedication and service to the craft, in 2009, the DGA awarded him our Honorary Life Member Award. He will be deeply missed.”
Legendary movie critic Roger Ebert died today. He was 70. He announced in a blog post Tuesday night that he was fighting another bout with cancer and “must slow down” his work, which included a new website launching next week to archive all of his reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times, as well as his annual movie festival. He also was considering a new book as a follow-up to his 2011 memoir Life Itself which Martin Scorsese and Steve Zaillian are teaming to produce as a documentary with Steve James (Hoop Dreams) helming. Ebert was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002 and suffered many health complications since then. But he worked right up until the end. This week, Ebert announced that he was stepping down as lead film critic for the Sun-Times, where his column has appeared since 1967 and later online. “It is with a heavy heart we report that legendary film critic Roger Ebert has passed away,” the newspaper tweeted to Ebert’s 700,000 Twitter followers. But Ebert became best-known for his TV film review shows partnered with Gene Siskel over a 23-year span for PBS and then syndication. Their “thumbs-up” and “thumbs-down” critiques were some of the most feared or cheered in Hollywood - and trusted by the public. After Siskel’s death in 1999, Ebert teamed with film critic Richard Roeper for another TV series beginning in 2000. During Ebert’s illness, however, he did not appear on the show after mid-2006 although his name remained in the title through 2008.
From then on, Ebert would appear on TV in fits and starts, courageously refusing to let his health complications interfere with his chosen profession and lifelong obsession. He wrote more than 15 books including an annual movie yearbook. In 1975, he became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. His TV programs were nominated for Emmys. In 1995, a section of Chicago’s Erie Street was renamed Siskel & Ebert Way. Since 1999, he hosted the annual Roger Eberts’ Film Festival in Champaign, IL. In 2005, Ebert was the first film critic to be awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As of 2010, Ebert’s movie reviews appeared in more than 200 newspapers in the United States and worldwide via Universal Press Syndicate.