B12 Solipsism

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Roger Ebert – an Esquire Profile

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“The Great Movies” (Roger Ebert)

An absolutely heart-rendingly poignant profile of Roger Ebert by Chris Jones of Esquire.

Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool

Afred Caldwell Lily Pond, from a few years ago. Apparently, Ebert and his wife, Chaz, live nearby, and frequently walk here. I’ve never seen them when we stroll around, but then what would I say?

Ralph Waldo Emerson
University Club of Chicago, also from a few years ago.

After saying their goodbyes to his colleagues (and to Riccardo’s), Ebert and Chaz go out for dinner, to one of their favorite places, the University Club of Chicago. Hidden inside another skyscraper, there’s a great Gothic room, all stone arches and stained glass. The room is filled mostly with people with white hair — there has been a big push to find younger members to fill in the growing spaces in the membership ranks — and they nod and wave at him and Chaz. They’re given a table in the middle of the room.

Ebert silently declines all entreaties from the fussy waiters. Food arrives only for Chaz and a friend who joins them. Ebert writes them notes, tearing pages from his spiral notepad, tapping his fingers together for his words to be read aloud. Everyone smiles and laughs about old stories. More and more, that’s how Ebert lives these days, through memories, of what things used to feel like and sound like and taste like. When his friend suddenly apologizes for eating in front of him, for talking about the buttered scallops and how the cream and the fish and the wine combine to make a kind of delicate smoke, Ebert shakes his head. He begins to write and tears a note from the spiral.

No, no, it reads. You’re eating for me.

[Click to continue reading Roger Ebert: The Essential Man]

Lumenssomewhere in the University Club, I’ve only been there once, when some aunts came to visit

Memorial Flowers
Another photo taken at the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond…

And I’d read of CereProc previously, I hope Ebert is happily re-united with voice. When I used to live alone, I always turned on the Mac Text to Speech option so that the computer would talk to me1

They head home and meet with the people from Comcast, who talk mostly to Chaz. Their Internet will be back soon, but probably not until tomorrow. Disaster. Ebert then takes the elevator upstairs and drops into his chair. As he reclines it slowly, the entire chair jumps somehow, one of its back legs thumping against the floor. It had been sitting on the charger for his iPhone, and now the charger is crushed. Ebert grabs his tray and laptop and taps out a few words before he presses a button and speakers come to life.

“What else can go wrong?” the voice says.

The voice is called Alex, a voice with a generic American accent and a generic tone and no emotion. At first Ebert spoke with a voice called Lawrence, which had an English accent. Ebert liked sounding English, because he is an Anglophile, and his English voice reminded him of those beautiful early summers when he would stop in London with Chaz on their way home after the annual chaos of Cannes. But the voice can be hard to decipher even without an English accent layered on top of it — it is given to eccentric pronunciations, especially of names and places — and so for the time being, Ebert has settled for generic instead.

Ebert is waiting for a Scottish company called CereProc to give him some of his former voice back. He found it on the Internet, where he spends a lot of his time. CereProc tailors text-to-speech software for voiceless customers so that they don’t all have to sound like Stephen Hawking. They have catalog voices — Heather, Katherine, Sarah, and Sue — with regional Scottish accents, but they will also custom-build software for clients who had the foresight to record their voices at length before they lost them. Ebert spent all those years on TV, and he also recorded four or five DVD commentaries in crystal-clear digital audio. The average English-speaking person will use about two thousand different words over the course of a given day. CereProc is mining Ebert’s TV tapes and DVD commentaries for those words, and the words it cannot find, it will piece together syllable by syllable. When CereProc finishes its work, Roger Ebert won’t sound exactly like Roger Ebert again, but he will sound more like him than Alex does. There might be moments, when he calls for Chaz from another room or tells her that he loves her and says goodnight — he’s a night owl; she prefers mornings — when they both might be able to close their eyes and pretend that everything is as it was.

[Click to continue reading Roger Ebert: The Essential Man]

His blog and Twitter feed are worth checking out, by the way.

Thanks to fellow-traveller, Marie Carnes for the link, via Twitter, where else?


update: Roger Ebert follows up

Christy Lemire wrote me: “So, everyone seems pretty moved by the Esquire piece on you, but I’m wondering what you thought about it. It’s so intimate, personal.”

Yeah, it was, wasn’t it? It was also well written, I thought. When I turned to it in the magazine, I got a jolt from the full-page photograph of my jaw drooping. Not a lovely sight. But then I am not a lovely sight, and in a moment I thought, well, what the hell. It’s just as well it’s out there. That’s how I look, after all.

[Click to continue reading Roger Ebert’s Last Words, con’t. – Roger Ebert’s Journal]

Footnotes:
  1. for a while, I collected snappy sayings that I input into the Text-To-Speech control panel. These phrases prefaced any error message – the computer would randomly pick sentences to recite in its robotic voice before telling me “printer out of ink”, or whatever. Sometimes better than silence. []

Written by Seth Anderson

February 16th, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Posted in Arts,Chicago-esque,Film

Tagged with , , ,

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