Roger Ebert – The Great Movies II
I believe that Roger Ebert wrote a total of four volumes of his “Great Movies” series. I’ve only read the first two. My initial impression after completing the second volume is that the movies included here are nowhere near the caliber of the films featured in his first volume. It seems as though he’s really scraping. How he managed to put out two more volumes after this is a bit shocking to me. I’m not, by any means, an expert in films, but his choices to include such films as “Say Anything”, “Being There”, and “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” seem odd inclusions for such a retrospective. I enjoyed all three of those movies. But “Great”???
I should also point out that out of the 100 movies chosen for this edition, I’ve seen about 15 of them. To be fair, I’m not really a lover of the cinema, but I’m guessing the average layman that enjoys going to the movies probably hasn’t seen most of these movies either. Ebert includes a lot of old films, a lot of foreign films, a lot of out-of-print films, and a lot of “art” films. By “art” films, I refer to movies that critics seem to love, but that tend to go over the heads of 99% of your average movie goer.
As much as I dislike visual arts though (I simply don’t have the patience to sit still and watch a screen for 90 minutes straight, let alone twice that long), I’ve always enjoyed reading Roger Ebert’s articles about movies. It sounds a bit demeaning to say that the man “watched movies for a living”, but that moniker shouldn’t be viewed negatively when applied to someone such as Roger Ebert. Since the man watched virtually every movie in existence during his lifetime (and many of the “great” movies, multiple times), he had the ability to study film as a work of art, and could dissect and observe things that the average movie goer could not. Whether or not you agreed with him, it was always very interesting to see his observations and reflections about a particular film.
Which is essentially the point of these books. He takes movies that he thinks are “great”, and within the essays, shares his thoughts and reasons as to why the particular movie was, in fact, great. I would imagine, for example, that the average millennial would get quickly turned off by any movie pre-1970, but Ebert, being an astute student, can share exactly why movies as old as 100 years were, in fact, revolutionary for their time. Consider for example “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”. Most adults and children of today that were raised on Pixar films would easily fall asleep after enduring such a film after 30 minutes. But when it was released in 1934 as the first ever animated full-length feature, there were elements that were so breathtaking and original, that it’s easy to see that we may never could have evolved to films such as “Toy Story” or “Finding Nemo” without such a blueprint.
I also confess that after reading several of these essays, I was tempted to find and watch the films since Ebert does such a good job piquing your interest (sadly, most are unavailable on streaming services such as Netflix, so I was unable to do so). I would consider this book by Ebert a “must” for serious lovers of film, but I also imagine the casual audience can find much to enjoy as well.