Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Chicago, Film and Media

The Academy of Ebert


While recovering from watching an Academy Awards broadcast helmed by a blasé multiplatform performance artist or two, we got to thinking about Chicago’s own cinematic rex. Or rather, he got us thinking, with a simple Tweet stating the obvious: “Is James Franco the first PhD candidate to host the Oscars?”
Of course, we thought! This is probably the only time the Oscars have featured a host who may or may not be a regular at the Beineke Library. But in the middle of trying to read James Franco as a cipher for contemporary subjectivity—whose Method is this? Schneeman, not Strasberg, right?—we had forsaken simplicity. As ebertchicago had so aptly advanced in 140 characters or less:
Whoa. The Academy met the academy.
But Roget Ebert has long delivered pithy bites of criticism unflinchingly avoidant of the kind of postmodern meta-analysis James Franco probably delivers in his seminar papers. Ebert the man, like Ebert the Twitter feed, requires no introduction. In spite of this, a recent playbill for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Friday Night at the Movies tribute admirably attempted one:

Through his decades of Pulitzer Prize-winning film criticism, groundbreaking television work with Gene Siskel, acclaimed yearly film festival, and now his popular blog and Twitter feed, Ebert has assumed a place in American culture that has made him, as Forbes magazine declared, “the most powerful pundit in America.”

Indeed, Ebert’s observations—whether advanced in several print collections (including The Great Movies III), advocated via a series of television programs (At the Movies, just launched nationally on PBS), opined on his popular blog, or cast in rapid fire captions on Twitter—continue to wow us with a lean directness that yields much meatier insights.
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And in the world of Web 3.0, ebertchicago is no exception. If Franco’s weirdly hallucinogenic Jim Stark-as-Troy-in-Reality Bites performance weren’t entertaining enough in a night that jumped the generational shark, Ebert’s live-tweeting of it sure was:

I hope James Franco does better on the oral exam for his PhD.
They should go back to using writers for the opening remarks.
Be honest now. Did the show open[ing] remind you of a Chamber of Commerce youth achievement banquet?
If James Franco were announcing the arrival of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, he would add, “Whatever.”

Add Our Lonely Academic’s Critical Flameout to the Ebert oeuvre: one that ranges from The Third Man‘s zither music and the Corleone family’s lost Americana to the reasons why Deuce Bigelow probably isn’t our European Gigolo par excellence. Or as the man himself said it best:

Urgent to producers: You’re not running long. You’re running slow.