Roger Ebert, 70, died last Thursday after a lengthy battle with cancer.
I grew up with Ebert. I remember watching him and Siskel hash out movies I’d never heard of and likely would not see at the one-screen theater in my hometown of Brookfield, Missouri.
I read today that the congregation of that delightful Baptist church in Kansas plans to picket Ebert’s funeral. Wow! Good for him. Ebert has joined the ranks of the soldiers who died serving our country. I hope those same Christians picket my funeral, though I feel pretty certain they won’t. I’ll never do anything as noble as give my life for my country or win a Pulitzer Prize.
For me, movies were an escape from the humdrums of life in a small Missouri town. I made good use of that one-screen theater. It’s there that I saw Kevin Bacon dance in “Footloose,” and I saw violence like I’d never known in “The Killing Fields.” I even had my first date there. My father drove me to and from. My date and I saw “Poltergeist.” Stephen Spielberg scared the bejesus out of me.
I define the decades of my life by what movies I watched. As a kid, I’d lie on our living room floor and watch wonderful black and white classics like “Francis the Talking Mule” or Shirley Temple in “The Little Rebel.” At my Grandmother Drake’s house on holiday get-togethers, we watched Johnny Weissmuller in “Tarzan.” On Friday nights, a television station in Kansas City hosted the Friday fright-night movie, with a dazzlingly real plastic skull and a creepy announcer. I watched wide-eyed as Dracula stalked his next victim.
My college days in the mid-1980s were all about going “Back to the Future” with Michael J. Fox. My sorority sisters and I rented a VCR from a local video store and watched whatever nightmare Stephen King dreamt up. Scariest flick: “The Shining.” Most poignant: “The Dead Zone.”
When I became a parent, I lost touch with movies until my children were old enough to be dragged along to the theaters. My oldest daughter and I loved attending the dollar theater just a few blocks from our house. When my twins came along, I couldn’t manage all three at a theater, so we rented movies. We kept Blockbuster in business as long as we could by watching old movies, like “The Dark Crystal,” “Planet of the Apes” and “Willow.”
One of my favorite things to do is rent a copy of an original film and a copy of the remake and compare the two. The original is almost always a better film. Some examples are “3:10 to Yuma” and “Flight of the Phoenix.” The one exception to this rule is “True Grit.” The Coen Brothers made a fantastic remake of the John Wayne original.
My favorite movie is “Bowfinger,” with Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. This movie makes me laugh every time I watch it. During the most challenging days of my life, I’d retreat from the world and watch “Bowfinger.” Within 30 minutes, I felt better. I guess that’s the magic of movies.