Derek Sivers

Entrepreneur, programmer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

The Great Movies

A friend I hadn’t heard from in years called me out of the blue yesterday, and just said, “Dude... did you hear?”

I went home and before she even saw me, my wife asked from the next room, “Babe... I heard the news. Are you OK?”

They all know I’m a fan of Roger Ebert. He died yesterday.

I was also a massive James Brown fan, but I wasn’t as affected when he died, because it’s not like I was tuning in weekly to hear what new music he was making.

But Ebert... ooof....

Every Friday since 1994 (yes 1994), I’d go to rogerebert.suntimes.com to read his new in-depth film reviews. I feel like I’ve been in his part-time film school class for the last 19 years. My life is so much richer from it.

This is going to be a hard habit to break.

Every time we’d watch a movie, I’d go back and read Ebert’s essay on it, to get a different perspective. My wife would joke, after the credits rolled, “OK, now go find out what Ebert said about it. I know you want to. I’ll wait.”

“The Great Movies” was his collection of films he felt were the best. Years after his initial review, he’d go back and watch it at least once more, then write a deeper essay about it.

A few years ago, I subscribed to Netflix and put all 300-or-so of “The Great Movies” in my queue. We’d watch one or two a week, not reading his essay until afterwards. I've seen most but not all of them now.

A hidden world opens up to you when you dive deep into an art form. Years of studying jazz at Berklee School of Music opened up that world to me. Art is so much deeper when you get the contexts and references. Ebert single-handedly did that for me for movies.

Someone recently asked him, “Do you think a more innocent viewpoint, not marred by technical knowledge, leads to a more ‘pure’ watching experience - the emotional elements without being distracted by technicalities?”

He answered, “The more movies you see and write about, the more you know about them. Consider baseball. The ‘innocent’ crowd member sees a bunch of guys running after a little ball while wearing funny costumes. The Cubs fan sees inevitable tragedy unfolding.”

So, yeah. I recommend you watch as many of these movies and read as many of these 364 essays as you can. Especially the ones you think you’d be least likely to enjoy. I’ll keep the links here permanently.

Roger Ebert’s “The Great Movies” essays

(and a cache of them here, just in case)