This week, the film-culture site The Dissolve took on a cruel irony with its name. Pitchfork Media’s two-year-old publication is itself fading to black, joining the Internet abyss of defunct film-review sites. Its loss got me thinking about Roger Ebert, and it made me miss him that much more. The death of the legend may have, in hindsight, foreshadowed the end of film criticism.
I didn’t know Ebert personally, but I’ve long trawled his vast catalogue, hoping he’d rub off on me. His reviews were a mix of technical discussion, humor, insight, and personality. Whether he was canonizing a film or ripping it to shreds with angry, typewritten teeth, Ebert’s analysis always felt absolute.
I grew up on Siskel and Ebert’s TV show, wanting to do what they did. Those two Chicago journalists changed the face of film analysis. Ebert was indelible because he backed up his sly bravado with insight as strong as a brick wall.
I didn’t read The Dissolve daily, but I appreciated it for being there when I needed it. Like Ebert, it was less concerned with quote-pulling comments about summer blockbusters, and more interested in taking apart a movie and putting it back together with some insight. Internet mouth-breathers sometimes found it too “pretentious” or “hipster” looking for a sick burn aimed at Michael Bay. But it was honest and thoughtful. It joins the ranks of film blogs and review sights that have been set adrift as the focus turns to those who cannot focus.
The somber send-offs for the Dissolve speak to its place in a fledgling medium. The type of discourse filling the pages of The Dissolve has fewer and fewer avenues in which to travel.
Film criticism is ailing. Ebert and the Dissolve shared a kinship in their desire to truly consider movies, not just think of not-so-clever puns to spew simply to get retweeted. There are still certainly some voices that deserve to be heard: A.O. Scott always brings the ruckus. But the leader of the pack passed away in 2013. As the craft continues to take hits, he looks ever larger in the rearview.