Tag Archives: Raging Bull

Remembering Roger

 

Roger Ebert taught me a lot about movies.

When we sailed together on Dusty Cohl’s bi-annual Floating Film Festival, Roger would screen some already much-appreciated film — Citizen Kane, Raging Bull, Casablanca — and dissect it frame by frame. A master class, if you will. But Roger’s frame-by frame-process was different. He called it “democracy in the dark” and he urged his audience to share our observations during his narrative, even right in the middle of a scene if that was when the urge struck us. After all, it wasn’t as if we didn’t know how it was going to end.

Sometimes it took two or three 90-minute sessions to get through a film. To be honest with you, I never intended to stay for any of them. I had already seen Citizen Kane more times than I could remember; I felt neither the desire nor the need to see it again. My plan was to be present for the first session, just to show my support, and then quietly slip away after the lights went down. I would give it, say, 20 minutes, just to make sure the screening was going all right. But then Roger would make some little comment, give some historical background to a scene we were watching, and I would somehow lose track of time. And 90 minutes later Roger would be saying that he thought this was probably a good place in the film to take a break. By which point I would decide that I would only stay for the first 10 minutes of the next session. Because, after all, how many times could you watch Citizen Kane and keep finding new things in it? But somehow Roger always did. So I always stayed.

He was a great teacher. He taught by example. He didn’t preach; he practiced.

rogerebert-736078I remember the year that Roger came to TIFF with his new laptop voice. He was seeing lots of movies, but also doing some interviews. I asked Michael Caine how it felt to be interviewed by Roger and his new voice.

“Now that you mention it,” said Caine, “I realize I barely noticed it. It just seemed like another interview with Roger.”

I reported Caine’s reaction back to Roger. “Michael said he felt completely at home with you,” I added.

Roger scrawled something on his ever-present notepad and handed it to me. Of course he felt completely at home, he wrote. When I asked him questions I used the laptop voice with the British accent!

In the last few years he was living in a special state of grace. We spent far more time worrying about him than he did. He was busy establishing a whole new curriculum, teaching us how to be human. It was an amazing course. It was a tough course. It was, as you might have predicted, the course less traveled. Had any of us expected, even for a moment, that it could be anything less?

Roger left us a year ago today.

He left us richer for his presence. He left us poorer for his absence.

So why am I laughing?

Because when I think of him, as I often do, what I remember most is how funny he was.

My most vivid memories of Roger were at the Cannes Film Festival with Dusty Cohl and Billy Baxter. Dusty was the uncrowned King of the Hotel Carlton, and the most coveted Ask at Cannes was an Invitation to join him at his table on the Carlton Terrace. Billy was the boisterous Pretender to the Throne at the Hotel Majestic, and ruled the Majestic Bar with an iron American Express credit card.

Roger had carte blanche at both tables on both terraces, but on most evenings, after we had filed our stories, Roger would hold court at Dusty’s table on the Carlton Terrace and regale us with a bottomless repertoire of jokes. He was an extraordinarily good joke-teller, as good as any seasoned standup comedian, and his rapid-fire hysterically funny homages to Henny Youngman and Lou Jacobi and other Catskill comics frequently sparked uncontrollable shrieks of laughter from our table on the Terrace.

This was the ’70s, by the way, when our days and nights in Cannes were constantly fueled by cigarettes and alcohol and a fair amount of champagne. The day before the festival began, hotels and restaurants in Cannes produced ‘special’ menus and ‘special’ drink lists, both with outrageously high prices.. (When one of his guests ordered a glass of orange juice, Dusty winced. “How about vodka and orange juice?” he countered. “Same price!”)

And in one of Roger’s great columns from Cannes, he told his Chicago readers how Edy Williams had climbed up on our table to perform an impromptu striptease for a cadre of clamoring photographers. Roger admitted that he found this quite upsetting, not because Edy was taking her clothes off, but because when she got up on our table she almost knocked over his bottle of Perrier water. “And if you knew how much a bottle of Perrier water costs at the Carlton Terrace,” he assured his readers, “you’d be pretty upset too.”

When Roger stopped drinking I suspected he’d never again be as funny as he was on those nights at the Carlton Terrace. Happily I was wrong. Maybe our nights in Cannes had been fueled by alcohol, but his richly refined sense of humour and his magical sense of timing were fueled solely by his unique talent and his irrefutable skill as a superb storyteller.

They’re all gone now. Dusty, Roger, Billy. Gone, but not forgotten.

All the links in this blog today are kinda special, but here’s the most special one. This is a link to Roger’s tribute to Billy. Read it and, well, laugh. Go ahead. Laugh out loud. We certainly did. And some of us still are.

Here’s (still) looking at you, kid.

 *****************

World Global International Home Office

Dear Lord Lew,
All arrangements are in order for
the maiden voyage of your lordship’s yacht.
I have been successful in inviting the top film
critics of England and America to join you.
They are eager to learn about
your legendary show business career.
As of today, I have confirmations from
Kathleen Carroll and Rex Reed of the New York Daily
News, Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles
Times, George Anthony of the Toronto Sun,
Alexander Walker of the London Evening
Standard, Richard and Mary Corliss of Time
magazine, Andrew Sarris of the Village Voice,
Molly Haskell of Vogue, and Roger Ebert of the
Chicago Sun-Times. I have told them to keep
tomorrow morning free for embarkation.
Please have your office send cars
to the front entrance of the Majestic at about 10.”

Billy Baxter

-/-

 

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Buffy & Cloris share their Unique lives, and Robin, Jayne, Kathy & Teresa get ready to put on their clothes again

NO BIZ LIKE SHOW BIZ: Get out your calendars. Toronto’s mini-Just For Laughs festival will run July 6 – 11, opening one day before the annual bilingual comedyfest launches

LEACHMAN: Toronto-bound

in Montreal … Smokey Robinson plays Fallsview Casino June 11 & 12 … Oscar-winning singer-songwriter Buffy Ste. Marie, a digital pioneer in her own right, gives a Unique Lives & Experiences session next week at Roy Thomson Hall, with confessed shopaholic Cloris Leachman set to follow in her footsteps on April 19 … and four of the funniest femmes in the business, Robin Duke, Jayne Eastwood, Kathryn Greenwood and Teresa Pavlinek, return with a brand new show when their smash comedy troupe Women Fully Clothed plays Massey Hall on May 7. But they’re there for one night only, so don’t dawdle. To order tickets, click here.

BRAVE NEW CYBER WORLD: The April 12 Genie Awards will be broadcast live on the Independent Film Channel,  livestreamed on CBC.ca. and rebroadcast on The Movie Network and Movie Central at a later

KUTCHER: tweeting for Haiti

date. The live webcast on CBC.ca is a first for the Genies and could give the awards show its largest audience reach ever … after concluding a 40-city theatrical tour, PBS’s American Experience will premiere its new Earth Days documentary on April 11 on Facebook. eight days ahead of the film’s television broadcast on April 19. This will reportedly be the first time a major broadcaster has introduced a full-length documentary on the site … Twitter-pated Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore and Will Ferrell are among the stars of 140 Tweets For Haiti. You can check out the trailer here … and Margaret Atwood tweets greetings from the Cologne Literary Festival where she reports that “twittern” is now a German verb.

SMALL SCREEN, BIG STAGE: Never underestimate the power of television. The Broadway run of David Mamet’s new play Race has now been extended to June 13, thanks

HAYES: Broadway-bound

to the marquee allure of Boston Legal charmer James Spader … stage veteran Doris Roberts, who finally became a household name playing Ray Romano‘s mother on television, is set to return to off-Broadway next month in Love, Loss And What I Wore, which is quietly becoming a notable successor to Love Letters and The Vagina Monologues … and Emmy award-winning Will & Grace scene-stealer Sean Hayes is deep in song and dance rehearsals for his Broadway bow in the upcoming revival of Promises, Promises, the Neil Simon-Burt Bacharach-Hal David musical based on the Academy Award-winning Billy Wilder comedy The Apartment with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, Hayes is playing the role originated by Jerry Orbach, another legit leading man who later became far more famous for his TV work on Law & Order. And Hayes’ leading lady is Wicked star Kristin Chenowith — best known to American audiences for, you guessed it, her Emmy-winning TV role on Pushing Daisies and her guest stint last season on Glee.

ENRIGHT: Giller juror

NO PEOPLE LIKE SHOW PEOPLE: Enigmatic music legend Don Francks is set to make one of his rare appearances at Lula’s Lounge on April 15 … renowned Russian bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin makes his Canadian debut here April 24 in the popular Canadian Opera Company production of The Flying Dutchman. Johannes Debus, the COC’s newly-appointed Music Director, will lead the COC Orchestra and Chorus … it’s official: CBC Radio stalwart Michael Enright and novelists Claire Messud and Ali Smith have been elected by Jack Rabinovitch to choose the next Giller Prize winner … Ken Lindsay fans, take note: Your favourite piano man returns to the village  April 1 (no foolin’) to the Fuzion Resto-Lounge on Church Street.  Mark Cassius, formerly of The Nylons, will be on hand to help out with the high notes. Reservations are advised. For more info, click here … and screenwriter Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) will pen the script for the screen biography of Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi. ESPN Films, an offshoot of the sports cable network, hopes to premiere the film before the 2012 Super Bowl. Robert DeNiro will play Lombardi — but will his Raging Bull guru Martin Scorsese direct? Stay tuned.

Have a great weekend!

-/-