Roger Ebert, the eminent American film critic, died on Thursday night. He was seventy. As ill as he had been for the last decade, the news of his death was still shocking. I followed him on Twitter. I read his reviews. I read his last announcement, made the day before he died, that he was going to be slowing down in his reviewing going forward. It was still a shock. As of now: a world without Roger Ebert.
Movie criticism was, for maybe 20 years, the first form of criticism people encountered. Reading the Friday papers, with their reviews of the week's new releases, very often informed the weekend's activities. And even if one didn't get to the cinemas before the film left, or the movie one was interested in wasn't showing anywhere accessible, it would be on the shelves of the local video store in less than a year. Watching a film, and agreeing or disagreeing with the review of it one had read: well, that's critical engagement in its purest form.
The first form of criticism they encountered, I should qualify, that mattered. We were certainly all encouraged to engage critically with school texts, for example, but that was work. Engaging with movies, and with movie reviews - that was fun.