Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, the film critic whose face and voice (and thumb) were familiar to TV viewers for decades, has not been on the airwaves for several years, since a bout with thyroid cancer necessitated a jaw operation that robbed him of the ability to speak. However, he has continued to review films (and blog about them, and on many other subjects) at the newspaper’s website.
One film Ebert did not review upon its release in April was eXpelled, the highly controversial documentary starring (and co-written by) former Nixon White House speechwriter and latterday Renaissance man Ben Stein, in which the case was made for the presentation of creationist beliefs along evolutionist theory in schools. eXpelled received a slew of negative notices from mostly liberal critics, but made a respectable $7 million, becoming the 13th-highest grossing documentary in movie annals, and might have earned much more had its distribution not been hindered by a lawsuit brought by Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon charging unauthorized use of the John Lennon song “Imagine.”
The suit was ultimately settled and eXpelled was issued on DVD last month, minus “Imagine” but otherwise unchanged. During the preceding seven months, comments to Ebert’s blogposts, and bloggers elsewhere, had periodically suggested that the critic had refused to discuss the film because it conflicted with his own beliefs. Well, yesterday Ebert finally got around to writing about eXpelled and Ben Stein’s argument that the creationist view is being unilaterally excluded from academe. And what he has to say is here.
Ebert’s post runs close to 3000 words and is one thoroughly determined attempt to knock the wind out of all the arguments Stein presents in eXpelled. Both of the critic’s thumbs are definitely down, and the rest of his fingers have produced a philippic that brings in everything from The $64,000 Question to the Alley Oop comic strip to the gambler who was the subject of the old music-hall song (and Ronald Colman film) “The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo.” In the course of this blizzard of images and words, Ebert does make a pretty good case that Stein’s interviews with scientists such as Richard Dawkins in the film are rather less than even-handed.
But the most striking thing about Ebert’s post, for me, was this: every other attack on Ben Stein and his views running more than a few hundred words, that I’ve ever seen, sooner or later brought in the actor/writer/economist’s connection with RN by way of arguing that such an association proved him to be wrong. But Ebert, in his post, never mentions Nixon, in such a context or otherwise. (Although seven or eight of the 400-odd comments appended to this post do bring him in.) For that alone, it’s worth a look.