This balcony has officially closed

Remembering the late Roger Ebert - this balcony has officially closed

By Lori Welbourne

In my early twenties I was offered a job as a movie critic and it felt like I’d hit the jackpot. I didn’t know anyone who loved the movies as much as I did, and I enjoyed writing, so it seemed the perfect career opportunity.

My first assignment was a Steven Seagal movie – I no longer remember the name – but I think it had the word law, kill or death in the title. It was an unbearably long action film and not something I would have chosen to watch if I was paying for the ticket myself.

I wrote about the dreadful acting, the substandard screenplay and its implausibility in the most entertaining way I could, and sent it in to the newspaper. To my delight the editor was happy with it and sent me to another free movie. I don’t recall what that second show was either, but I liked it enough to recommend it.

“Your other one was better,” the editor told me after reading it. “Can you rework this so it sounds more like the first one did?”

When I asked him if he wanted me to write it as though I didn’t like it, he said yes.

“Readers like a good rant,” he explained.

That was the end of my career as a film critic – and I wasn’t sad about it at all. I realized this editor was just one guy with one opinion, but I could already tell from that brief experience that I wasn’t cut out for the job. Sure, I adored the movies, but not all genres. If I could just review comedies, dramas and chick flicks I’m sure I would have loved it.

But how can someone who doesn’t appreciate action, horror and fantasy films critique them fairly? Most can’t.

But one person who sure could was the late great Roger Ebert. And what a writer he was. A lot of people didn’t know he won a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, but I knew this trivia, as a long-time fan of his work after seeing him for the first time on TV in the early ‘80s – when he was known as the “fat one” on At the Movies.

I didn’t always agree with his opinion, or that of his co-host Gene Siskel, but I sure loved hearing them share their spirited viewpoints. It was obvious their passion for the movies was authentic, and their chemistry together was undeniable.

I was also in awe of their influence. A thumbs-up from one of them was huge for filmmakers back then. And because the pair also reviewed independent movies, foreign films and documentaries, the audience was exposed to so much more than just the mainstream blockbuster fare. I personally would seek out shows I normally wouldn’t have even known about, based upon their reviews. I was grateful to the dynamic duo for expanding my movie-going experience, and for being such a powerful voice for the underdog.

And just as it was hard to imagine anyone filling Gene Siskel’s shoes when he died fourteen years ago, it’s even harder to imagine anyone taking the place of Roger Ebert now. People are not replaceable.

As I’m getting older, I’m seeing more and more of my fellow humans starting to die off.

People I knew personally and loved dearly, as well as those I never knew, but whose work I admired immensely.

I’ve been told you can’t mourn someone you’ve never met, but I think you can. I never knew Roger Ebert personally, but his life affected mine in a very positive way and for that reason I’ll miss his presence here on Earth.

Ultimately, for me, his death serves as yet another reminder that life is short. The more thumbs-up moments we can enjoy wholeheartedly, the better our lives will be.


Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columist. She can be contacted at