Updated Fri, Apr 5, 2013 8:20 am
Roger Ebert was my teacher.
That is, his voice was. And by his voice, I mean his writing (as well as his TV appearances).
When I was a kid, that voice pointed me to what felt like a secret door opening onto whole new continents of film.
Sometimes, after watching a movie on home video with my family, I’d reemerge with one of his books, read aloud his review and we’d consider the picture in that light.
Not that I always agreed with him. But he did that uncanny thing that our favorite critics are somehow able to do: He put into words something I felt but couldn't express.
That voice never really left me. Years and years later, his journal ("The London Perambulator" article, to be specific; one of my favorites) guided me on my very first walk around London. It's funny: His voice almost came to mean more to me after he lost the use of it in the literal sense.
On my first visit to Venice, I kept in the back of my mind the name of his favorite trattoria. One morning, while out exploring, I suddenly looked up and there it was. What’s more, through the window I saw who I thought must surely be the character he’d described so vividly in his journal: Lino, the lively proprietor, busily preparing for the day. Though graying now, I recognized him from Ebert’s description.
I took the liberty of taking a picture. When I returned home, I emailed Roger the photo, letting him know that I’d stumbled across his favorite trattoria, though I didn’t get to eat there because it was too early. I told him I hoped that this was his old friend Lino, still at it.
I didn’t really think I’d hear back. "He must get massive amounts of email every day," I thought. Then the response came. He couldn't open the picture and asked me to re-send to his personal email address. I did so, and shortly thereafter came the reply:
"Ah, yes! The very place! The beloved man! Now you must go back someday."
There followed an extremely enjoyable email exchange that still feels a bit surreal. Amongst other things, he told me about how beautiful Venice is in the winter, how that was his favorite time to be there.
This only begins to say how much I’ll miss his voice. Yesterday, when I first heard the news, I sat at my desk and wept.
Born in Athens, Ohio, Scott Pfeiffer has lived in Chicago since 1993. He did a minor in film at Ohio University back in the day. These days, he knocks about Chi-town, taking in film, music and theater. Read his other music and film reviews at The Moving World.