Roger Ebert on What Makes a Movie Great

“We live in a box of space and time. Movies are windows in its walls. They allow us to enter other minds—not simply in the sense of identifying with the characters, although that is an important part of it, but by seeing the world as another person sees it. François Truffaut said that for a director it was an inspiring sight to walk to the front of a movie theatre, turn around, and look back at the faces of the audience, turned up to the light from the screen. If the film is any good, those faces reflect an out-of-the-body experience: The audience for a brief time is somewhere else, sometime else, concerned with lives that are not its own. […]

What happens when you see a lot of good movies is that directorial voices and styles begin to emerge. You see that some movies are made by individuals, and others by committees. Some are simply about the personalities they capture (the Marx Brothers and Astaire and Rogers). Others are about the mastery of genre, from Star Wars, which attempts to transcend swashbuckling, to Detour, which attempts to hide in the shadows of noir. Most good movies are about the style, tone and vision of their makers. A director will strike a chord in your imagination, and you will be compelled to seek out the other works. Directors become like friends. Buñuel is delighted by the shamelessness of human nature. Scorsese is charged by the lurid possibilities of Catholic guilt. Kurosawa celebrates individuals in a country that suspects them. Wilder is astonished by the things some people will do to be happy. Keaton is about the struggle of man’s spirit against the physical facts of the world. Hitchcock creates images that have the quality of guilty dreams. Sooner or later every lover of film arrives at Ozu, and understands that the movies are not about moving but about whether to move.”

Roger Ebert, The Great Movies (2002)


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