Skip to comments.Roger (Bush hater) Ebert interview
Posted on 07/27/2003 2:36:08 PM PDT by Roscoe Karns
When we get down to the interview, I speak with Ebert about Michael Moore, our current political climate, Bush and religion, and progressive films he likes.Afterwards, I walk him back to his car. The license plate reads "Movies."
Q: Tell me what was your reaction to Michael Moore's acceptance speech at the Academy Awards.
Ebert: I heard him give the same speech the day before at the Independent Spirit Awards, where he stood up straight, and looked the audience in the eye, and took his time. It got a good response, although that audience was more receptive than the academy. But I have a feeling an acting coach could have analyzed his performance at the Academy Awards and said he was prompting the Academy to dislike his speech because he hunkered over the microphone, and he talked too fast and defiantly, as if he was trying to get it out before he was stopped. His body language and his verbal language all kind of sent the wrong message.
Nevertheless, I agree with what he said. I don't think Bush was legitimately elected President. But I was very offended as a reporter when Michael came directly back to the pressroom where I was, along with 300 or 400 other reporters, and lectured us, "Now do your job. Don't report it was a divided house. Only five loud people were booing."
Q: It didn't sound like only five people were booing.
Ebert: No, it wasn't five. I was just talking with Sean Welsh at the Wisconsin Film Festival, who directed "Spellbound." He was one of the directors Michael had invited up on stage, and I asked him very carefully about that, and he said, "No, it sounded about 50-50." But Michael immediately went into this spin-control mode. In one interview, he said it sounded like the stagehands were yelling at him, and that the boos started before he had really gotten into his speech, and that they were amplified. And then he said a lot of the boos were people booing the booers. This is like we're in grassy knoll territory now. I think he would have been better off saying, "Well, you know, the Academy wasn't ready for my opinion, and it was pretty divided: About half of the people booed me." Which is what it sounded like to me.
Q: I was surprised by the amount and the volume of the boos. Why do you think there was such a divided house?
Ebert: The Academy is paranoid about its image. I think they did not want America to feel that they subscribed to what they feared Michael Moore was going to say because he talked so quickly that they couldn't really assimilate what he was saying in time to do anything more than realize that he was going over the edge as far as they were concerned. I would propose to you that if Michael Moore had taken a deep breath, and looked straight at the audience, and said, "I am a nonfiction filmmaker during a fictitious Presidency," and stopped, I think he basically would have gotten a positive response to that. But his whole delivery was wrong. I think his delivery prompted the audience. They were not ready to assimilate that much that quickly. You know, they didn't boo anyone else, and there were several other anti-war speeches that were applauded.
Q: But they were much less explicit.
Q: I mean, "Shame on Bush" is about as explicit as you can get.
Ebert: But by the time you got to that, the boos were already 30 seconds old.
Q: How do you think it played with the larger audience, the American public?
Ebert: I think it gave ammunition to Michael Moore's enemies. I think it played into their hands.
Q: We had a long discussion about this the day after at The Progressive. Some of us, like me, were just so delighted to hear someone get up and say that out loud--to say we're defiant, we're not going to accept this man and this man's illegal war--that it gave us a real sense of positive energy.
Ebert: You know, they say be careful what you ask for because you're going to get it. On our "Ebert & Roeper" program, we have an annual show where we pick the winners--who ought to win the Oscars, and then at the end of that show there's a segment where Roeper and I say what we would most like to see. So I wound up and said, "I'd like to see Michael Moore get up there and let 'em have it with both barrels and really let loose and give them a real rabble-rousing speech. I asked, basically, for that to happen. And then, when it happened, I don't think Michael Moore really sold it to that audience in a way that would have been more effective. So I'm in favor of people getting up there and saying it, but at the same time there is a way to communicate effectively so as to help your cause, and I don't think Michael found that.
Q: Adrien Brody from "The Pianist," who won best actor, gave a speech about how horrible war was and then essentially saluted his friend who is over there and wished the best for him. Brody got a lot of praise for his nuanced speech. On the other hand, I was watching with my sixteen-year-old son, who is just kind of awakening to progressive politics, and he said, "Why was that guy so ambiguous?" So I wonder whether a more explicit statement wasn't in order.
Ebert: You have to remember that the Oscars came on a day of reversals. Americans were taken prisoner of war. We had some casualties. We had some lost soldiers, and some helicopter crashes, and things were going badly. If the Oscars had been held three days earlier or a week later, everything might have been different. But Adrien Brody found the right note for that moment. I think you can say almost anything if you find the right way to say it.
Q: What do you make of the criticism of Hollywood celebrities for speaking out against the war--the Sean Penns, the Susan Sarandons?
Ebert: It's just ignorant; it's just ignorant.
Q: Why do you say that?
Ebert: I begin to feel like I was in the last generation of Americans who took a civics class. I begin to feel like most Americans don't understand the First Amendment, don't understand the idea of freedom of speech, and don't understand that it's the responsibility of the citizen to speak out. If Hollywood stars speak out, so do all sorts of other people. Now Hollywood stars can get a better hearing. Oddly enough, the people who mostly seem to hear them are the right wing, so that Fox News can put on its ticker tape in Times Square a vile attack on Michael Moore, and Susan Sarandon is a punchline. These are people who are responsible and are saying what they believe. And there are people on the other side who also speak out, and it's the way our country works. You know, if you're good enough to be the best actor of your generation, which is probably what Sean Penn is, you're probably not dumb. And anyone who's ever heard Susan Sarandon speak for a while knows that she's pretty smart. I write op-ed columns for the Chicago Sun-Times, and people send me e-mails saying, "You're a movie critic. You don't know anything about politics." Well, you know what, I'm 60 years old, and I've been interested in politics since I was on my daddy's knee. During the 1948 election, we were praying for Truman. I know a lot about politics.
Q: When the Susan Sarandons and Sean Penns speak out, they do so at some risk to their career options, don't they?
Ebert: There's an interesting pattern going on. When I write a political column for the Chicago Sun-Times, when liberals disagree with me, they send in long, logical e-mails explaining all my errors. I hardly ever get well-reasoned articles from the right. People just tell me to shut up. That's the message: "Shut up. Don't write anymore about this. Who do you think you are?"
Q: It's the Dixie Chicks impulse. One of the members of the group said she was ashamed to be from Texas where the President is from. And so, in what I consider a brownshirt tactic, some rightwing DJs organized gatherings where people literally stomped on Dixie Chick albums.
Ebert: It wasn't just some rightwing DJs. The New York Times reported that it was also organized by a radio conglomerate that had received a lot of favors from the Bush Administration in deregulation. So that was not a spontaneous outpouring. It's a shame. It's a shame. The right really wants to punish you for having an opinion. And I think both the left and the right should celebrate people who have different opinions, and disagree with them, and argue with them, and differ with them, but don't just try to shut them up. The right really dominates radio, and it's amazing how much energy the right spends telling us that the press is slanted to the left when it really isn't. They want to shut other people up. They really don't understand the First Amendment.
Q: You yourself generated some controversy recently when you said Bush acts as though God is his football coach and is sending in plays from the sidelines.
Ebert: I said God doesn't send in plays from the sidelines. That was an interesting column, and oddly enough the mail on that one was about 10-to-1 in favor, and I thought it was really going to get me in hot water. It was about theology. You know, the Pope sent an emissary to Bush to say God does not want this war, and God does not endorse this war. Nor, for that matter, does God not endorse the war. Catholic theology believes that God gave man free will, and you can't give somebody free will and then send in a play from the sidelines. I think that's what I said. Catholic theology also accounts for the fact that there's evil in the world. People say, well, how could God let this happen. Well, what God did was set the mechanism in motion and then allow people to do the best they can under the circumstances that they're dealt in order to gain grace and get into heaven. I'm saying this not as a Catholic but as a student of Catholic theology. The Bush theory, of course, is that he has a personal dialogue with God: God talks to Bush, Bush talks to God. And Bush gets God's message, and Bush really believes that God's on his side. The problem with that is Bush then can't change his mind because God isn't going to change his mind. And so what we have here really is a rather alarming situation where religion in the White House has crossed the line between church and state. It's funny that there was so much disturbance about having a Catholic in the White House with Kennedy, and when we finally get a religion in the White House that's causing a lot of conflicts, and concerns, and disturbances for a lot of people, it's in the Bush Administration.
Q: And there's no arguing with someone who can just bring out the God card.
Ebert: To watch him on television, he is just so sure, so sure. His certainty doesn't come from political or military realities; it comes from apparently on high.
Q: With the hostility about free speech that we were talking about a little while ago, do you think we're entering into a New McCarthyism period?
Ebert: I don't know. I don't know that anyone is going to stand up in the Senate with a list, although there is, of course, a website with all the traitors listed on it. I mean, anyone can open up a website. The web is wonderful that way. I'm kind of glad the web is sort of totally anarchic. That's fine with me. I just feel that essentially the country is in the grip of some very bad information. I think a lot of working class people don't understand that their money is being stolen. I saw an interesting article that said 10 percent of the American public would put themselves in the top 1 percent in income.
Q: This is why Americans favor the repeal of the estate tax.
Ebert: Yeah, they all think they're going to leave a big estate, and they love Bush's theories because they all think they're going to get rich someday. But the fact is, most people are not going to be rich someday. And we've had a concerted policy of taking money away from the poor and giving it to the rich wholesale, and at the same time, we have the runaway corporations, and the greed. Look at [Richard] Perle's resignation; look what's really behind that. I feel ordinary people really should be angry. Yet a lot of them seem to be voting conservative and thinking that the conservatives represent them. And they don't.
Q: Why is that? You deal with people's perceptions in the movies and in your op-ed columns. Why do they have this odd perception?
Ebert: I think most people are more susceptible to prejudice than to reason. And the parrots of talk radio are just sending out the same stuff. When I look at my e-mails, I see the same Limbaugh rhetoric; apparently, people don't have any ideas of their own. And there's just this drumroll of anti-progressive thought.
Well, I've been interested in the space program ever since I sat on my daddy's knee & watched the Apollo missions, but that doesn't make me a rocket scientist.
I think it is hysterical that he was taken in by the premise of the film The Hurricane.
Indeed. Wouldn't we all be better off if President Bush just ran around saying, "I don't know what to do!" I'm sure the Democrats would be sympathetic and helpful.
Or, the President could go on TV and say, "Osama bin Laden may have had a point. Maybe it is out fault. You know, the other day I was discussing nuclear war with my daughter and she pointed out to me that maybe the world is safer if North Korea becomes a nuclear power. I'm not sure, but I'm concerned. Very concerned."
Noun: People who are liberals, but are afraid to say so in public.
YES, they are not only habitual liars, they are also cowards.They would rather climb a tree & lie, than stand on the ground & tell the truth.
Consider that Roger lives off of Hollywood. I would expect not much different from him. He couldn't survive if he was known as a conservative. In this interview, he's defined 'liberal elitism'.
Btw, his weekly show has been relegated to 3 AM in Phoenix. Sorry, Rog. its over.
Metacritic is a good movie review site. You can see how reviewers stack up against each other.
Not only was Reinhold unaware that Buster Keaton got his name from the famous late 19th century cartoon character Buster Brown, but he also didn't know that the nickname Buster was popular as long ago as the boyhood of Abraham Lincoln, when sod-busters on the frontier frequently nicknamed their sons Buster.
Hmmm. Let's see here.
Looks like Ebert ain't too happy that some Americans neglect their First Ammendment rights. However when he finds a group that actually uses its First Ammendment rights (namely, Fox News), he's even more unhappy. May he continue to suffer from such unhappiness.
Roger outs himself as a liar because he has never written a statement that a liberal would disagree with. And his criticism of the right's ineptitude at writing an email is a joke. I doubt anyone on the right could match the dreck of Roger's turns at screenwriting Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens.
By sticking the word "apparently" in there Ebert avoids what otherwise would be a flat-out lie. Bush has said repeatedly (the accusation is old by know in the WH) that he never prays for "certainty" from "on high" or a specific course of action, but only for strength and wisdom.