think we all need at least one really nice positive thing about the
entertainment  business every single day of the year, including
weekends. Sometimes it may be something simple, like a video that
showcases something fun and sometimes it may be a movie poster that
embraces the aesthetic we all want Hollywood to aspire to. Sometimes it
may be a long-winded diatribe. Sometimes it’ll be from the staff and
extended family of CHUD.com. Maybe even you readers can get in on it.
So, take this to the bank. Every day, you will get a little bit of
positivity from one column a day here. Take it with you. Maybe it’ll
help you through a bad day or give folks some fun things to hunt down in
their busy celluloid digesting day.

By Joshua Miller (Facebook)

What I’m Thankful For:

Roger Ebert’s Video Companion 1996 Edition

I have been using the Internet now for roughly twelve years. Twelve years is a long time for certain relationships – romantic, friendship, employer, stalker, terminal illness – but in this context it sounds incredibly brief. I can’t believe that merely twelve years ago I had no idea what the IMDb was, that all my movie news came from garbage like Entertainment Tonight, and that my access to the vast majority of American film critics was constrained to pull quotes on movie posters.

My interest in film shifted from casual-enthusiast to a more serious approach about the time I hit junior high. While my tastes were still very much that of a kid, I’d reached the age where I started caring what adults and the greater intellectual world thought of movies. I became curious who made films, what other films these people had previously made, how movies where made, why they were made. And I became curious which movies were considered “good,” and why. I found myself gobbling up the extremely limited amount of film criticism available to me at the time. Aside from Fangoria and Starlog, I really had no idea what film magazines were out there in the world, so pretty much all I had was Jeff Strickler of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (who I determined I disliked even at a very young age), and of course Siskel & Ebert’s TV show.

I was an easy target for Christmas presents when I was younger. My entire extended family knew I was a film buff, so every year I’d get an onslaught of random film-related presents, mostly books. I received a lot of film compendiums and a couple Leonard Maltin review books. These all served their respective purposes, but I used them almost exclusively as reference, and little more. I learned nothing from them other than dates and names.

Then I got the 1996 edition of Roger Ebert’s Video Companion.

Roger Ebert’s opinions on films are certainly debatable. Like most interesting critics, he inspires either love or venomous dismissal. I myself disagree with him just as often as I agree (especially lately), but I’ll put up my dukes against anyone who claims he isn’t a good writer or that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.* It was not until I was in college, and introduced to critics like Pauline Kael, that I found anyone who spoke as effortlessly and intelligibly about the nature of cinema as Roger Ebert. He is often derided by the snobbier film fans out there for being a populous critic, but I think that is one of his strengths. The creative world needs such people. I would wager that for a lot of people Ebert was a gateway drug into the greater world of smart, in-depth film criticism. He certainly was for me.

I devoured the 1996 Video Companion. It became a ritual of mine to immediately read his review for any older film I watched, and it was always a disappointment to watch a film and then discover the Companion didn’t cover it. Aside from maybe the release of AFI’s first “100 Years, 100 Movies” list, no other single source has caused me to seek out more quality films than the ’96 Companion. His reviews were a great way for a young chap, such as myself, to connect with films I was watching – a road map for spotting things that caused these films to blossom in heretofore unknown ways. But it was his essays that broadened the way I thought about and appreciated cinema, in particular his “Great Movies” pieces. It is because of these essays that I will always defend Ebert, even when he’s panning something I love or championing some embarrassing genre twaddle (as he so often loves to do – god bless him).

Ebert’s Video Companion certainly didn’t make me love films any more than I already did, but it got me to think about them more. And for that, I am thankful.

* Aside from his recent, obtuse argument that video games aren’t art. Regardless if one thinks video games are or aren’t art, I thought his reasoning and demeanor were very uncharacteristically close minded and old-manish.