Roger Ebert, Movies, & Unschooling

"You and me and movies"

“You and me and movies”

What an interesting man. It’s been fascinating reading what he was like as a person, since his death last week.   Evidently, his real life was very similar to his public persona: witty, smart, passionate about his work.

In a speaking engagement, Roger Ebert talked about how movies are the best vehicle of all the arts to create empathy. He spoke of how movies allow a person to walk in someone else’s shoes, and see things from someone else’s perspective. We sure could use more of that.

I’m including his TED talk from last year year, because I want to have a spot here on my blog for Roger Ebert.   His personal strength shines through in this video, along with his humor and loving nature.

Most people are aware of Roger (yes, I like to refer to him like I know him!) losing his ability to speak and becoming very badly disfigured as cancer worked its way through his body. David Edelstein gives a great overview of Roger Ebert’s life on CBS Sunday Morning. [It doesn’t want to upload onto WordPress, so you’ll have to go to the little 2-minute link at their website.]

Another reason I wanted to include this tribute to Roger Ebert, is because we LOVED movies!! Still do! But as an unschooling family, we watched movies together so often! We discussed the characters, laughed at their antics – often over and over, as if we hadn’t seen it before! We weren’t one of those families who watch a movie once and then put it away. We had our favorites, and we’d watch them again and again.

Often, we pushed the envelope a little in what the kids ought to be watching. The ratings didn’t really matter a lot. We had our own personal rating system. Drugs, cursing, violence was okay. A lot of meanness, sexual behavior that was too graphic, bad guys winning – not okay. So as really young kids, Michael, Katie, & Alyssa had an entire repertoire of movie quotes from The Blues Brothers, Monty Python, and every John Wayne movie, to name a few.

Movies became one of our bonds.

We’d drive people nuts when they came to our house and we’d have, what looked like, cryptic conversations. One person would say a movie line, and another person, simply passing by, would follow up with the next line, or just say the movie title. The goal was always to stump each other.  Even now, Michael or Ron will include a movie line IN their text conversation, waiting to see if the other one caught it. Sure enough, the response would come, either including the next line or simply saying, “Dirty Harry.” or “Jeremiah Johnson.” ha! And that’s all the other would need to know that the connection is still there, distance and time couldn’t change things.

So that’s part of our kinship with Roger. We love movies as much as he did.

Still, I want to include a couple more links that I’ve found post-mortem.

This is a link to Roger getting exasperated at the Sundance Film Festival. He is defending the directors saying they do not have to create characters that “represent” a particular ethnicity in “the correct” way. Well, it’s short, you can see….

But the BEST thing Roger leaves us with is his reviews! We might not even agree with everything he says, but it gets the conversation going. I hope the Chicago Sun Times will continue to leave up his movie reviews at He even created a list of the Best 100 Movies in the first century of film. Ron and I looked at the list this weekend, and of course we disagree with him on some of them. But even that was fun, thinking about OUR Best 100 movies and why we like them. Every family should have THEIR OWN Best 100 movies! Still, we are going to work our way through Roger’s Best 100 list, reading his reviews to see why he chose what he did.

Roger Ebert approached movies the way we approached learning with our children. He expressed Ideas like, ‘watch and see where it leads you, or ‘the questions are the point.’ He emphasized that you can get so much more out of movies if you take an active role, instead of just taking whatever the director gives you. It’s up to the movie goer to embrace the movie and get the most out of it.

It makes me smile to have this connection with Roger Ebert. I’m sure he didn’t give a thought to the concept of unschooling. But when I see what he has written here about his Great Movies list, I see a distinct correlation.  And even if you don’t, it’s a cool way to really involve yourself in watching movies.

“When people asked me where they should begin in looking at classic films, I never knew what to say. Now I can say, “Plunge into these Great Movies, and go where they lead you.”

There’s a next step. If you’re really serious about the movies, get together with two or three friends who care as much as you do. Watch the film all the way through on video. Then start again at the top. Whenever anyone sees anything they want to comment on, freeze the frame. Talk about what you’re looking at. The story, the performances, the sets, the locations. The camera movement, the lighting, the composition, the special effects. The color, the shadows, the sound, the music. The themes, the tone, the mood, the style.

There are no right answers. The questions are the point. They make you an active movie watcher, not a passive one. You should not be a witness at a movie, but a collaborator. Directors cannot make the film without you. Together, you can accomplish amazing things. The more you learn, the quicker you’ll know when the director is not doing his share of the job. That’s the whole key to being a great moviegoer. There’s nothing else to it.”

See you at the movies, Roger!


P.S. I know this is probably Bad Blog Etiquette, but I just found a link that is kind of funny. I think as these pop up, I’m going to just add them here to my little Roger Ebert shrine. ha!

11 Funniest Lines from Roger Ebert’s reviews of bad movies. The comment section adds a few more. Just sayin’.


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