By DON BABWIN
Roger Ebert, one of the nation’s most influential film critics who used newspapers, television and social media to take readers into theaters and even into his own life, was laid to rest Monday with praise from political leaders, family and people he’d never met but who chose movies based on the direction of his thumb.
It was Ebert who told readers which films to see and needed to see and which ones they should stay away from, Emanuel said, remembering the influence Ebert had on movie goers through his newspaper reviews and the immensely popular television show he hosted with fellow critic Gene Siskel during which they would issue thumbs-up or thumbs-down assessments.
In a 90-minute funeral Mass, speakers took turns talking about how Ebert spent his career communicating his ideas about movies, social issues, the newspaper business and finally the health problems that left him unable to speak.
That realization, she and other speakers said, helped explain Ebert’s fascination with outlets such as Twitter and his blog that he took to just two days before he died to tell readers he was taking a “leave of presence.”
Ebert was also a champion for the little guy, as over the years he weighed more and more on social issues and other topics that had nothing to do with film.
Gov. Pat Quinn spoke as much, if not more, about Ebert’s “passion for social justice” and the fact that he was a “union man,” as he did about Ebert as a film critic.
Ebert’s widow, Chaz, who received a standing ovation as she made her way to the lectern to speak, expanded on that devotion.
That was the message of Jonathan Jackson, who, after relating comments from his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, told the crowded church why Ebert’s early support for the films of Spike Lee and other black filmmakers was so important.
As when other Chicago icons such as former Cubs great Ron Santo died, fans of Ebert flocked to the church to pay tribute to someone they saw as one of their own: a Chicago guy. Fans said they liked it that Ebert never left the city for Los Angeles or New York, and that he remained a newspaper writer until the end. Some clapped when Barron ended his remarks with a story about how Ebert kept his word to stay at the paper.
And they liked it that he didn’t hide after surgeons had to remove portions of his jaw.