Sit with Roger Ebert
Only a handful of Americans have conducted their statue-worthy accomplishments while sitting down. Roger Ebert is one of them.
Ebert was a film critic, in a time before film reviews were something that anyone could publish. He was the first of his profession to win a Pulitzer Prize, the first with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and -- most important for his immortality -- the first with a national TV show. Nearly every week from 1977 to 1999 he and fellow critic Gene Siskel sat on a movie theater set and argued the merits of films from Apocalypse Now to Porky's II. Each review ended with a vote: thumbs up or down. Siskel and Ebert trademarked their "Two Thumbs Up" catchphrase to keep copycat shows from stealing it.
Roger would return to his hometown of Champaign-Urbana to host an annual film festival in its Virginia Theatre, where he'd watched movies as a teenager. When he died in 2013 the city decided to put a statue of him out front. The idea had kicked around for years; some of its early concepts had even included Siskel (who had died in 1999). But Ebert's death shifted the sculpture's focus exclusively on him, the hometown favorite.
Unveiled on April 24, 2014, titled "C-U at the Movies," it depicts a life-size Roger Ebert in the prime of his TV career, sitting and giving an enthusiastic thumbs up. Empty theater seats on either side encourage visitors to sit and offer their own thumb-centric reviews. The statue is solid bronze, so sitters in shorts should expect a hot seat on a sunny summer afternoon.
We asked Virginia Theatre director Steven Bentz, whose office overlooks the statue, how many people have sat with Roger Ebert. He said the number was "incalculable" and that "every time I turn around, I see people out there giving that 'thumbs up.'
"It's just constant," he said. "I've seen people pull over by the side of the road, put their flashers on, and the whole family runs over to take a photograph."
Roger Ebert knew the power of a good visual, and we'd guess that long after Ebert the film reviewer is forgotten, Ebert the Thumbs Up Guy will endure, enjoyed not for the memory of his thoughtful criticism but for the fun of his affirmative digit. Roger Ebert would appreciate that kind of plot twist. He might even give it two thumbs up.