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Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert Hardcover – September 15, 2006
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Ebert, probably the most prolific film critic of all time, here distills his massive life's work into a single volume. After a nostalgic introduction recounting his initial forays into criticism, he presents reviews of the best films of each of the past 38 years, from Bonnie and Clyde to Crash, and a selection of foreign films, documentaries, and "overlooked and underrated" works. More compelling are longer "think pieces" on such topics as colorization, the movie-ratings system, digital projection, and Star Wars' deleterious effect on Hollywood. Those, and a selection of star profiles and interviews, allow him to share his expertise and voice his passion in a fashion that daily reviewing seldom permits. The volume's final selection, a 2004 piece about the healing effect of viewing movies--and of writing about them--during his convalescence from cancer treatment, may well serve as his valedictory. As film criticism becomes more marginalized, Ebert may come to be seen as the last of a kind--the critic who actually has the power to influence a national audience. Gordon Flagg
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Yet Ebert's legacy isn't just confined to reviews; as "Awake in the Dark" shows, he was also a passionate defender of inventive filmmakers and courageous actors, a champion of the independent cinema, a friend of many respectable critics who influenced his career and had the backs of directors with disparate styles, and a virulent detractor of studios and executives that dare thumb their fat, salty thumbs in a director's eye, rather it was through colorization, executive meddling and a ridiculous rating system that gives X for sex but an R for a man's head being blown off.
"Awake in the Dark" does not collect all of Ebert's reviews, essays and columns; to do so would require three-to-five long books. Instead, "Awake" is compilation of some of Ebert's best work, making it a terrific introduction for those pondering the critic's importance in cinema. When you read Ebert's words, you are in the midst of a maestro writer who had an intense passion and love for movies. "Awake" is divided into seven parts - the first part are a selective choice of interviews Ebert did with various actors and filmmakers. The second-to-fifth parts covers his reviews of documentaries, certain foreign films, underrated/overlooked movies and all the movies he named as best picture of their respective years (although Ebert admits, in the case of the latter, that he has recanted some of his opinions). The seventh and final part deals with Ebert (along with Richard Corliss and Andrew Sarris) talking about the importance of film criticism and why it's starting to lose favor in the face of "teen critics" and the rise of television.
It's the sixth part, however, that demonstrates Ebert's superlative writing, extraordinary film knowledge and his gift in engaging readers while providing them food for thought. The sixth part is entirely composed of essays, which include his thoughts on the legacy of "Star Wars", a loving tribute to John Cassavetes, a moving memoriam to the late Pauline Kael, his picks for the ten most influential films of the century, a defense of black-and-white movies against the insidious colorization process and, most of all, his argument about the decline of celluloid against the digital revolution, an argument that seems depressingly prophetic now that celluloid is slowly dying and on the verge of being permanently replaced.
I didn't always agree with Ebert, but there was no denying his infinite love for movies. Despite his tragic passing, Ebert's work and his legacy continues to live on. "Awake in the Dark" remains an indispensable account of a man who lived his life at his fullest by showing why cinema was the greatest. Anyone who never cared about Ebert's work should buy this book. It will make you realize why film criticism mattered and why movies still matter.
But forty years of reviews? Hey! That's not bad!
Obviously, what I'm trying to say is that I enjoyed this collection immensely. I find nothing really wrong with it at all. I don't always agree with Ebert's take on a film but over all, I find him a reliable guide. More important, he is intelligent and passionate and always has something interesting to say.
Some people will use this book as a reference book. I probably will at times. (Just like I do with the various editions of The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings, which I find invariably fascinating.)
Others, including me, will read these reviews primarily for interest and pleasure. They'll find a lot of both in it.
I saw 'Life Itself' on screen. I regretted that I missed to join the Sunday morning ritual of my son and my husband watching the movie critique show. It looked too barb of arguments between those two men to me then.
I purchased for my son who started college and seemed overwhelmed with school related reading assignment: I wanted my self-taught historian and self-propelled reader back.
And he is back. I myself am catching up with reading a copy of this book borrowed from a library.