Apr 07, 2013
ROGER EBERT – ONE UP – ONE DOWN
New York Times film critic, A. O. Scott’s moving tribute to the late Roger Ebert had this to say….
“Every movie blogger, entertainment journalist, critic and film buff who had crossed paths with Roger Ebert or absorbed his influence — which is to say just about all of us — posted an elegy or a reminiscence.”
Well, I hadn’t. Not that A. O Scott was waiting for mine. But as I read this I realized I had a great Roger Ebert story and I’m a blogger.
In 2002 after writing movies for years I had my first film actually produced. It was called The Guru, and to this day it remains my favorite piece of work released by a major studio. It was one of the first, if not the first, Hollywood/Bollywood crossover films. And thank heavens it has evolved a cult following. It never did much commercially in this country but it was a huge hit in England and India.
The producers had high hopes for the English release and they pulled out all the stops, every third bus had our poster on it. The Underground was plastered with the biggest posters I had ever seen. All the magazines had full page ads. That week you’d have thought it was the only film playing in England.
The night before the premiere we were having dinner in a place called Wheelers. So there we were eating our Dover sole and sitting two tables over was Roger Ebert and his wife. Seeing my name all over the city had my narcissism in overdrive, and I said to Glenn, I wondered if they were in town for the premiere.
We all happened to leave at the same time. It was not planned. I promise. Glenn told me to say hello to him. I’m not good at that stuff, thrusting myself on people. I said “No way.”
But Glenn, being Glenn, fell in step with the Eberts as we all made our way down Jermyn Street. I walked a few paces ahead with my in–laws.
Glenn of course asked him why he was in town and he said “On holiday.” He asked if he knew about The Guru, Roger said “Of course.” It turned out he was not attending the premiere. At that point Glenn called me over and introduced me. He had already told him I was the screenwriter.
And suddenly there I was in London on a warm August night, strolling down Jermyn Street and Piccadilly with THE Roger Ebert, America’s most influential film critic; the night before my film was coming out. I mean what are the chances??? What are they??? How did that happen??? Was it a sign from above or a mere freak experience???
And then from time to time a bus would zip past with our film and my name splashed across it. Could this be true?
I asked him if he was attending the premiere and he said “No.”
I asked if he and his wife would like to come and he said, “Yes.” Emphatically – yes.
I said “No problem, I can arrange that. You’re my guest.” You Roger Ebert are my guest – at my film, that I wrote. Well, I didn’t say that, but it was sort of tap dancing through my brain.
I was so excited I wanted to call the producers as soon as I got home. But waited until the next morning, when I burst into the offices and said, “Guess who I met and wants to come tonight? ROGER EBERT.”
Nobody looked very happy. Like not at all.
“We can’t do that,” they said. I was floored. I thought they might up my production bonus on this one.
“Are you nuts?”
“It’s not coming out in the States for four months he shouldn’t see it now.”
“But it will be playing in every theatre in London starting the next day, he can go and buy a ticket,” I rationalized.
They stood firm. They did not want to invite him. I stood firmer.
“Far better he see it in a packed house with people festive and laughing, than alone in a dark basement in Chicago.”
They stared at me and shook their heads.
“And furthermore” I did not drop it, “I invited him. I told him I would have two tickets delivered to his hotel today. If I don’t he will only remember that I lied and didn’t get him tickets and it would make him hate this film and every other film I write for the rest of my career. I will be the writer who couldn’t deliver promised tickets.”
They started looking like I was making some sense.
“I demand we ask him. Or I will give him my tickets.” Down went the gauntlet.
Mr. and Mrs. Roger Ebert were cordially invited to the London premiere of the The Guru.
It was a great night, one of the best in my career. I did not however see Roger.
Four months later when the film opened in the US I waited impatiently for his review. Though the reviews were OK, fifty-seven percent “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, we needed his thumbs up. Finally the Sunday morning he was to review it came, I sat on the edge of the bed waiting…My friend Roger from Jermyn Street panned The Guru. He just hated it. Hated it. Hated it.
This was before he got sick and he still had his show. I was devastated. I never watched him again. I took it personally.
I felt badly when he got sick four years later. I actually had great admiration for him after he lost the ability to speak, yet he went on Tweeting and blogging and reviewing and writing a cookbook when he himself could no longer eat. How could one not have endless admiration for a spirit like that. But I never followed his reviews again.
Flash forward to when my next big studio film came out, Confessions of A Shopaholic, I never bothered to see what he had to say about it. As a critic his opinion no longer interested me.
But just now I was curious – so I checked for the first time, and he liked it. He wrote a whole blog about it and gave it a decent review. A film so inferior to The Guru in every way, but Roger Ebert liked it. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a twenty-five.
Maybe illness had softened him. Who knows? Maybe he didn’t like Bollywood.
He reinvented film criticism. He was an American icon. He adapted to the changes in his life and the world. At the time of his death he had 800,000 Twitter followers. He was a totally unique person. And that night walking down Jermyn Street in London he was very kind and open.
In the end I got a thumb down when I thought I deserved an up and and an up when I would have given me a down.
His life mattered in a big way. All thumbs up for Roger Ebert.
London Bus with The Guru
In the Underground more Gurumania.
Director Daisy von Scheler Mayer with our full page ads.
Actress Marisa Tomei
Heather Graham and Laura Bailey at premiere.
Director Daisy Mayer and DP John DeBorman and me at premiere.
Jimi Mistry as The Guru.
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