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Roger Ebert: Pulitzer-Winning Film Critic & 'Beyond the Valley of the Dolls' Screenwriter Dead

Roger Ebert Film criticRoger Ebert.

Roger Ebert: Pulitzer winner, TV star-critic, humanistic Twitter voice has died

Roger Ebert, probably the best known movie critic in the United States, died earlier today in Chicago, after suffering a recurrence of the cancer he had been fighting for over a decade. Ebert was 70. (Image: Film critic Roger Ebert.)

Though best known for the populist “thumbs up, thumbs down” routine he shared with fellow (and rival) film critic Gene Siskel on their nationally syndicated television show At the Movies (formerly Sneak Previews and later Siskel & Ebert), Roger Ebert was a widely respected movie pundit. A writer for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967, Ebert became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1975. (That particular Pulitzer category had been created five years earlier.) Nearly three decades would pass before another film critic, the Washington Post's Stephen Hunter, earned a Pulitzer in 2003. (Gene Siskel died of complications from brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in 1999; his eventual replacement was Richard Roeper.)

Besides the Pulitzer, Roger Ebert's honors include a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame for his television work, a Special Achievement Award from the American Society of Cinematographers, a special Gotham Award, seven Primetime Emmy nominations for At the Movies, and an honorary membership of the Directors Guild of America.

Roger Ebert film reviews

Sometimes, Roger Ebert's film reviews found the core of the zeitgeist; sometimes they were totally off the mark. Discussing Arthur Penn's 1967 crime drama Bonnie and Clyde, which turned Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway into stars, Ebert wrote that the movie (repudiated by the New York Times's veteran critic Bosley Crowther) “will be seen as the definitive film of the 1960s, showing with sadness, humor and unforgiving detail what one society had come to.” That same year, Ebert praised the epoch-making Dustin Hoffman / Anne Bancroft vehicle The Graduate; however, he added that the Mike Nichols-directed comedy's “only flaw, I believe, is the introduction of limp, wordy Simon and Garfunkel songs.”

Besides his reviews, Ebert also wrote several film books, and provided commentaries for DVDs such as Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, Michael Curtiz's Casablanca, Yasujiro Ozu's Floating Weeds, and Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which he wrote.

Roger Ebert's “top ten” films, published last year as part of Sight & Sound's decennial poll, were the following: Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, Welles' Citizen Kane, Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita, Buster Keaton's The General, Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull, Yasujiro Ozu's Tokyo Story, Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, and Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.

Although widely admired and influential, Roger Ebert also had his detractors, who felt he was a populist reviewer and a part of the industry he was supposed to impartially critique, e.g., when, in years past, he was seen schmoozing with movie celebrities on the Oscar red carpet. (Here is Ebert's response to Los Angeles Times' – Pulitzer Prize-winning – TV commentator Howard Rosenberg.)

More recently, Ebert was chastised for panning Stewart Wade's gay coming-out comedy-drama Tru Loved after having watched only eight minutes of the film. He later sat through all of Tru Loved and wrote a long piece explaining his – mostly negative – reactions to it.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls Roger Ebert Cynthia Myers Dolly ReadRoger Ebert movies: From Beyond the Valley of the Dolls to Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (image: Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls)

According to the IMDb, Roger Ebert wrote or co-wrote screenplays for three movies, all three “sexploitation” efforts directed by Russ Meyer:

  • Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) tells the story of three young rock-band members who find sex (lesbian and heterosexual), drugs (of various kinds), and disillusionment in Hollywood. Distributed by the then-daring 20th Century Fox (the studio also released the Raquel Welch / Mae West combo Myra Breckinridge that year), Beyond the Valley of the Dolls takes Jacqueline Susann's bestselling trash-novel Valley of the Dolls and its 1967 Mark Robson-directed film adaptation to even higher levels of cheesy camp. The cast include Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, John Lazar, and frequent Oscar red-carpet presence Edy Williams.
  • Up! (1976), whose tagline as per the IMDb was “Meet Margot the Magnificent Superchick!” featured Raven De La Croix as the aptly named Margo Winchester, a woman who conquers men's, huh, hearts; an Adolf Hitler look-alike who dies in his bathtub after being attacked by a piranha; and Kitten Natividad as a naked, one-woman Greek chorus, explaining all the various mind-boggling goings-on.
  • Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979) features sex, religion, small-town mores, and a large-breasted woman named Lavonia and played by Up!'s Kitten Natividad, whose other credits (as per the IMDb) range from the (apparently softcore) John Holmes and the All Star Sex Queens to the woman in 'Moral Majority' Shirt in Airplane II: The Sequel.

Additionally, a Meyer-Ebert Sex Pistols movie tentatively titled Who Killed Bambi? failed to take off.

Roger Ebert on Twitter

Unable to talk following cancer surgery that resulted in the removal of his lower jaw, Ebert continued as vocal as ever on Twitter. Followed by 837,968 Twitter accounts, @ebertchicago was one of the most influential voices in that medium – probably the most influential among movie writers.

Needless to say, Ebert was both widely respected and reviled on Twitter, at times the target of attacks for his humanistic, liberal-minded tweets (“'Kindness' covers all of my political beliefs,” he wrote in his memoirs); at other times, he was attacked for comments perceived by some as either insensitive or politically incorrect. For instance, when New South Books bowdlerized Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn for its 2011 reissue, Ebert tweeted “I'd rather be called a Nigger than a Slave.” In another tweet, he wrote “Friends Don't let jackasses drink and drive” following a high-speed car accident that killed Jackass troupe performer Ryan Dunn and his passenger. Both times, Ebert issued an explanation for his tweets.

Roger Ebert's last tweeted film review was of Andrew Niccol's The Host, based on Twilight author Stephenie Meyer's bestselling novel, and in which “Meyer hears voices from other planets.” Ebert's last tweet read simply: “My Leave of Presence: An update.”

Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom Beyond the Valley of the Dolls photo: 20th Century Fox.

Roger Ebert quotes via Neil Steinberg's Ebert obit / appreciation in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Roger Ebert picture via his Twitter account.


         
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1 Comment to Roger Ebert: Pulitzer-Winning Film Critic & 'Beyond the Valley of the Dolls' Screenwriter Dead

  1. Noir Dame

    I appreciate what you had to say in part one about his potential to make mistakes… unlike a lot of other very famous film critics, he was willing to admit when he was wrong, even years later - as well as defending - not nastily, but thoroughly - his shorter, apparently knee-jerk reviews.

    His updated review of “Tru Loved,” which you mentioned, was really thoughtful - not knee-jerk at all - with tips for directors, actors, writers on how to make their work better. There was an awful lot of generosity in that multi-part review, when you think about it.