Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbooks: How Relevant are They Anyway?

Found in cardboard boxes at garage sales. Seen on shelves at a used book store. Appearing on Amazon’s and Ebay’s pages. Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbooks, or sometimes known as Roger Ebert’s Movie Home/Video Companion, are records of years gone by. Showcasing movies that have already premiered, the books feature reviews and other movie related material from Roger Ebert himself. From the mid ‘80s to the early 2010s, these yearbooks provided an overview of any given movie year. They correlated with Roger and Gene Siskel’s show, At The Movies. But for the majority of the 2010s, a movie yearbook has not been published. Also, it seems like this concept is not as talked about as it once was. Is this idea that Roger created still relevant anymore? Does it still have a place in our current day and time? This editorial will explore the arguments for and against the revival of the movie yearbook. I will also share my thoughts on the argument as a whole. Since today is the first day of Siskel and Ebert at the Blogathon, let the blogathon begin!

Siskel and Ebert Movie Theater banner
Created by me, Sally Silverscreen, on Adobe Spark.

How Roger’s Movie Yearbooks Are Still Relevent

What do putting up Christmas trees, going trick or treating, and watching the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s have in common? All of these activities are rooted in tradition. Because these activities have become cherished for many people, they are put into practice year after year. For approximately three decades, Roger Ebert shared his thoughts, opinions, and insight about movies and other subjects related to that topic through his movie yearbooks. Throughout his career and reputation, Roger gained the likeability and respect of his audience. Because he became a cherished figure in the movie community, the publication of his movie yearbooks turned into a tradition. What helped was having continuous segments on his shows with Gene Siskel, such as episodes dedicated to the best and worst movies in a given year. Because these segments took place every year, it helped the show’s audience associate tradition with Roger Ebert.

 

When I think of a “yearbook”, I picture a hardcover book given at the end of a school year, filled with pictures and short, but thorough explanations about those photos. As I conducted my research about Roger Ebert’s movie yearbooks, I discovered that they did not fit my definition of a “yearbook”. These books are a collection of reviews, interviews, and essays. Despite this, a traditional “yearbook” and Roger Ebert’s movie yearbooks do share one major similarity: they are a collection of records and reflections. A typical school yearbook focuses on the memories and events of a particular school year, reflecting on things such as various school subjects or graduating classes. This publication is usually more visual, where photos are used to tell the story and express ideas. In Roger Ebert’s case, he chose a more verbal approach when it came to the creation of his movie yearbooks. Since movies are a visual medium and images like movie stills and award winners can be found in other publications, pictures are not necessary for these particular books of Roger’s. All of these books discuss the movie year prior to the book’s release. For example, Roger Ebert’s movie yearbook from 1999 will talk about movies from 1998. Like a school yearbook, Roger’s movie yearbooks are a singular place where his collective story can be presented.

 

Another important component to a yearbook, whether it be a movie yearbook or one from school, is how it creates a shared experience amongst its audience. Because the subject of movies and school is so broad, readers are able to find something in the text that they can relate to. Within the movie yearbooks, Roger Ebert reviews a variety of films that were theatrically released. Different studios and genres are represented throughout the publication. Because of the yearbook’s broad range of movies, there’s a chance that the material is appealing to almost everyone. On his shows with Gene Siskel and in his movie yearbooks, Roger would talk about whether he liked or disliked a particular film. Since they talked about movies that were theatrically released, meaning they are easily accessible for the majority of their audience, a shared experience was allowed to talk place. Just one example is when both Gene and Siskel reviewed the movie, Jurassic Park. This is a movie that a large number of people have seen, so it feels like people watching or reading their review can join a shared conversation.

 

During the run of Siskel and Ebert’s television shows, as well as their careers, both Gene and Roger created a legacy that outlasted their lives. By reviewing films and making those thoughts accessible to their audience, who also happen to be potential movie-goers, they helped create the concept of movie related entertainment. Gene and Roger also showed that anyone could articulate their thoughts and opinions on film. This contribution has been appreciated by fans and members of the movie community, even encouraging them to become movie critics themselves. Roger’s movie yearbooks make up a part of his legacy, proving to be an essential piece of movie related literature. This concept of looking back on a given movie year through text is something that would continue to be beneficial to movie fans and fellow critics. It may even help make the movie community a better place.

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The cover of Roger Ebert’s first movie yearbook, Robert Ebert’s Movie Home Companion. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

How Roger’s Movie Yearbooks Are Not Relevant Anymore

The last movie yearbook to be published was Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook 2013, which covers the movie years of 2010 to mid-2012. This is because Roger Ebert passed away on April 4th, 2013. Because of this, the movie community lost one of the most unique perspectives in film critic history. It also means that new movie related content from Roger can never be created, since the work would not come directly from him. Making a book called “Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook” and not having Roger involved in the project kind of defeats the purpose. Carrying on one of Roger’s long running book series without his consent also seems disrespectful. Sure, we could guess what Roger would think of movies released after April 2013. But it’s better to know than take a guess.

 

When Roger Ebert passed away six years ago, the world lost one of the faces of the movie community. The other face of the movie community, Gene Siskel, passed away twenty years ago. This means that the movie community currently does not have any one person that represents them. Gene and Roger earned their titles through their appearances on their television shows. Since their first show, Sneak Previews, premiered in 1975, there were not as many voices in the movie community as there are today. Because more people have joined this community, it would be difficult to choose a new representative. How would this person be chosen? What credentials would give this person the title? Who would nominate this person? So many factors would play a role when trying to make a decision like this. But the one question that should be asked is “Does the movie community really need a new representative”?

 

With the invention of the internet and social media, more people have been given the opportunity to share their thoughts on film. Blogs, websites, and even Youtube channels have provided platforms for more voices to be heard. These inventions helped the movie community grow, gaining more members now than when Gene and Roger first appeared on Sneak Previews. If the concept of the movie yearbook were to come back, it would be difficult to determine whose opinions get included. Do you choose the people who are associated with movie related companies or Youtubers with smaller channels? What about bloggers, would their thoughts be incorporated in the yearbook too? The website, rogerebert.com, is a place where multiple film critics can share their thoughts in one place. Would these people have a say in who’s cinematic thoughts are welcome? The very first movie yearbook from Roger Ebert, titled Roger Ebert’s Movie Home Companion, was released in 1985. Because the internet and social media weren’t big factors like they are today, the people associated with coordinating Roger Ebert’s movie yearbooks didn’t have to think about these things. But the landscape of the movie community has expanded in the 21st century.

 

Not only has the internet and social media provided a platform for more members of the movie community, they’ve also presented information in a shorter amount of time. Today, movie reviews are uploaded to the internet days, sometimes even weeks, before a movie’s premiere. Some quick searching will lead any movie fan to a wide variety of reviews and other movie related content from multiple authors. Our digital age has produced e-books, making it easier for readers to download many different stories. With these new elements that the movie community has gained, the idea of putting a movie yearbook to print comes into question. Why not just create an e-book version of this project? Wouldn’t it be easier to put all this content on a website? Another concern that needs to be addressed is whether people would pay for a collection of information when they can receive it for free in places that have internet access. When Roger Ebert’s movie yearbooks were published, most of his audience didn’t have the internet. They relied on his books, articles, and television programs when they wanted to hear what he had to say. Today there’s rogerebert.com, a website that provides reviews and movie related articles at a faster pace. They give this information straight to their audience, eliminating the process of company publishing and book binding.

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The cover of Roger Ebert’s last movie yearbook, Robert Ebert’s Movie Yearbook 2013. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

My Thoughts on Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbooks

There’s no denying that Roger Ebert played a huge role in the movie community’s foundation. His thoughts and opinions on film helped many people become film critics of their own, instead of simply accepting the role of movie consumer. Something that made this goal a reality was the publication of Roger Ebert’s movie yearbooks. These books allowed Roger’s audience to reminiscence over films they’ve seen or heard about, as well as reflect on the topics of the featured interviews and essays. After the publication of Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook 2013 and Roger Ebert’s death, the world stopped receiving the wise and knowledgeable insight that could have easily been taken for granted. The concept of the movie yearbook is an interesting one, beneficial for all members of the movie community. I, as a movie blogger and member of the movie community, would love to see this concept brought back into publication. However, before this idea could be executed again, several important questions would need to be answered. From selecting the people who would contribute to the yearbook to which medium would host the project, these factors could affect the return of Roger Ebert’s long running series. A series that became a tradition because of one cherished individual. But all traditions start somewhere, and if they’re worth it, should be put into practice for many years and generations to come.

 

Have fun at the blogathon!

Sally Silverscreen

 

If you would like to check out this editorial’s references, here are the links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Ebert

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15010613-roger-ebert-s-movie-yearbook-2013?from_search=true

https://www.rogerebert.com/about

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5 thoughts on “Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbooks: How Relevant are They Anyway?

  1. Pingback: Siskel and Ebert at the Blogathon is here! – 18 Cinema Lane

  2. I have to say I’ve never picked up one of Roger Ebert’s yearbooks, and I feel a little sad about it, now that I’ve read your essay. It would be an interesting collection of reviews, but also a snapshot of movies in a certain period of time. If I ever come across one of them in a rummage/library discard sale, I’ll snap it up.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Le Magalhaes

    Great article! You made good points both for and against the publication of the yearbook. There is no doubt that those yearbooks are historical sources, incredibly valuable for movie lovers in general and movie historians in particular. Yet, at the same time the movie community is so diverse that we can’t choose only one face to represent it, and the dynamics of e-books and online articles has changed everything. Maybe the rogerebert.com website could put up an e-book every year? That’d be interesting!
    Thanks for hosting this blogathon!
    Cheers!
    Le

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome and thanks for reading my editorial, Le! You do bring up some valid points that I agree with, especially when it comes to the importance of the movie yearbooks! An e-book version of this concept is an interesting idea. But it all depends on if the people behind the website would want to bring it back at all.

      Like

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