Through his decades of Pulitzer Prize _winning film criticism, groundbreaking television work with Gene Siskel, acclaimed yearly film festival, and now his popular blog and Twitter feed, Ebert has assumed a place in American culture that has made him, as Forbes magazine declared, "the most powerful pundit in America."
The CSO honors Ebert at this performance in the best way possible: by showcasing clips and music from some of the greatest films ever made. Under the direction of Richard Kaufman, the Orchestra performs music from some of Ebert's most-loved films, including Casablanca, The Third Man, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Gone with the Wind, as well as other works by his favorite film composers. In anticipation of this tribute, we quizzed Ebert on some of his most-admired moments related to music in film and got a few more details about the latest incarnation of his TV show, At the Movies.
Who is your favorite film composer and why?
Nino Rota, because he is so effective at evoking the elusive moods of a director of shifting temperament like Fellini, Coppola, or Zeffirelli. His music is frankly intended to coax nostalgia. He is largely responsible for the way so many Americans inexplicably feel we lost something of value with the Corleone family, who were, after all, thieves and murderers. His score achieved something Coppola could not have approached by words and performance alone. Think how the Godfather movies would play with an "action score."
Can you give an example of a film's music that, even if not universally acclaimed, elevated the film for you personally?
The perfect example is The Third Man. The zither music of Anton Karas permeates every frame with its hard, unsentimental objectivity. Carol Reed and Orson Welles found him in a Viennese cafe. Selznick couldn't stand the score. He wanted an orchestra! I've heard from readers who hate the score. They may very well: but they are wrong.
At your annual Ebertfest film festival in Champaign, you feature a silent film, such as Battleship Potemkin or Man with a Movie Camera, with live musical accompaniment every year. How does live music impact the experience of a film?
One cannot imagine silent film without music, and indeed, all over the world, silent films were almost never shown without at least a piano or an accordion, sometimes two or three pieces, up to a small orchestra. Some silent films had scores written specifically for them. It is important to be clear they were only used sometimes, and often were not even available. I've heard three scores performed for Potemkin, in addition to the Edmund Meisel score on the definitive Kino DVD restoration.
After attending the CSO 's Friday Night at the Movies performance of Psycho earlier this season, your reaction on Twitter was "Wow." Do you have any other particularly memorable experiences of films with live music?
Well, of course, that would be Carmine Coppola's symphonic score for his son's 1980 production of Kevin Brownlow's restoration of Abel Gance's Napol_on (1927). I experienced that twice, with the Radio City Music Hall premiere and the Chicago Theatre engagement, both times with Coppola conducting. The Chicago Theatre booking was the beginning of that great venue's return from the brink of destruction.
Your new television show, Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies, just launched nationally on PBS . Are there any segments or features on the show that music lovers should watch for?
One of the richest sources of movie music can be found in the scores of films from Hollywood's classic period. We will have frequent contributions from Kim Morgan and Kartina Richarson, who are in love with that period and its music.
And our closing "Ebert Productions" theme is directly inspired by The Third Man.