Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Roger Ebert Attends His Overlooked Film Festival

I don't know how many people who read this page have been following this, but film critic Roger Ebert has been undergoing surgery to combat cancer of the salivary gland and therefore has been ostensibly MIA from his site and his TV show for several months. He's written a handful of essays and reviews in the past few months and has said he plans to return to work, but has also admitted that his recovery has been longer and harder than previously expected.

Recently he posted a photo of himself, which is quite jarring to see, simply because he's been out of the public eye for so long (I still had that image of him that’s posted on the upper-left-hand corner of It’s also jarring to discover that he’s currently unable to speak. Perhaps it’s so jarring because the few times he’s returned to write for his site he still retains his wit and style, so one automatically assumes that he's overall in fine shape (aside from the obligatory weight loss and bed-head one acquires while recovering from what was assumed to be successful surgery). In other words, when he’s returned to write reviews, he reads (and therefore, "sounds") like regular ole' Roger Ebert.

Or perhaps it’s because, as Mr. Ebert puts it, "We spend too much time hiding illness. There is an assumption that I must always look the same."

In an essay on his site, Mr. Ebert writes:

"I have received a lot of advice that I should not attend the Festival. I’m told that paparazzi will take unflattering pictures, people will be unkind, etc. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. As a journalist I can take it as well as dish it out.

"So let’s talk turkey. What will I look like? To paraphrase a line from "Raging Bull," I ain't a pretty boy no more. (Not that I ever was. The original appeal of Siskel & Ebert was that we didn’t look like we belonged on TV.)

"What happened was, cancer of the salivary gland spread to my right lower jaw. A segment of the mandible was removed. Two operations to replace the missing segment were unsuccessful, both leading to unanticipated bleeding.

"I was told photos of me in this condition would attract the gossip papers. So what? I have been very sick, am getting better and this is how it looks. I still have my brain and my typing fingers.

"We spend too much time hiding illness. There is an assumption that I must always look the same. I hope to look better than I look now. But I’m not going to miss my Festival."

Having been a fan and admirer of Mr. Ebert’s reviews for years now, I admire his decision to attend his festival (and his attitude towards the paparazzi) and am wishing him the best and hoping he can recover as soon as possible.

Rooting for the guy,

James "Get Well, Roger!" Comtois

Photo: Dom Navolia/Chicago Sun-Times

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