I'll admit it... this made me cry.
Roger Ebert has been a part of my cultural life since 1978, and a part of my actual life since 1999. I'm not close friends with him, but he did fly me to Champaign-Urbana to be a guest speaker at his Overlooked Film Festival one year, and two highlights from that experience really stand out in memory. One night, after a late dinner with a large group of people, Roger offered to drive me back to the on-campus rooms where I was staying, and he took the long way around, giving me a late night tour of the city where he grew up. Being in a car with just him, having him tell me stories about his life, it seemed surreal. Later in the festival, after a double-feature of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" with a live orchestral score and the Rin Taro anime "Metropolis," I joined him onstage for a conversation about SF, anime, and more, complete with a Q&A with the audience. When I was watching him and Gene Siskel on their various review shows, it would never have occurred to me that one day I might sit across from him in front of a crowd talking movies, and even now, years later, it still feels like something I dreamed.
When I saw Roger and his wife Chaz at Sundance this year, I didn't want to take much of their time. It was impressive to see the pace Roger kept at the festival. I'm guessing he saw more movies than I did. I think what he's done in the last month or two in terms of putting his new face out there and finally answering all the questions people have about his condition since his various cancer-correcting surgeries has been brave stuff. That Esquire piece was amazing, as was the accompanying photography.
Today, on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," Roger premiered his new voice, a computer-created replacement for the voice that Roger lost to cancer and the surgeries he had to battle it. A company in Scotland called CerePro has been using the DVD commentaries that Roger recorded over the years to re-create his own voice, and Oprah's cameras were there when he first tried it for his wife. You can see the whole clip on their site, or a brief part of it embedded below:
That is astonishing. It really is him. It seems like such a simple thing, but looking at that clip, I am deeply moved at how technology can be used to restore something so personal, so essential to a person. Roger Ebert's voice has been a gift for film fans for decades.
And today, it's a gift for him as well.
You can see more highlights from his appearance on today's "Oprah Winfrey Show" at her official website, including Roger's predictions for this year's Oscars.
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