Saturday, February 20, 2010

Roger Ebert in Esquire

Chris Jones' profile on Roger Ebert in this month's issue of Esquire is one of the best things I've read so far this year. For real!

A few years back Ebert lost his lower jaw to cancer and along with it his ability to speak, eat or drink using his mouth. Though luckily, for him and us, he didn't lose his ability to write. And Ebert writes a lot these days. And not just about movies, though he still writes as passionately and eloquently as ever about them for the Sun Times, but sharing more of his own stories now, taking intimate stock of his life while engaging in this remarkable hands-on way with his readers, interacting and responding to their comments and becoming, in fact, their readers as well. It's hard not to be inspired by just how far he's expanded his presence as a public writer.

Though what ultimately makes Jones' profile so engrossing, is how well the piece conveys the happiness, this genuine sense of contentment, Ebert has found through the way his writing has evolved in the three years since he lost his lower jaw. Ebert's enjoying, at age 67, this amazing writing renaissance. There's a real spark to his writing, a more personal and intimate side to it that often has nothing to do with movies. He's politically feisty, frequently hurling witty ripostes via Twitter (and Ebert is, I think, one of the masters of Twitters 140 word limitation) at whatever conservative pundit, politician or religious leader happened to raise his Liberal ire just then. He posts often and while I'm watching the girls and checking in on Twitter throughout the day, Ebert's posts read like a tonic. He's very good at it.

Also Cool: back in August of last year Ebert wrote about discovering the Scottish company CereProc, developers of "the world's most advanced text to speech technology," while browsing the subject online. It turns out , working with Ebert, the company is currently beta-testing software that will allow Ebert to draw from a decent sized database chock full of quality samples of his voice. CereProc simply raided the archives, drawing from the thousands of television hours and DVD commentaries Ebert had logged over the years, carefully cutting, pasting and post-editng so he can now draw from these recordings, reassembling them in whatever way he chooses. With speakers and a computer he'll be able to more actively partake in conversations. His voice will be heard. Eventually CereProc promises Ebert will be able to add simple commands to give greater or lesser intonation or emphasis to his voice, a closer approximation of how we actually speak. Ebert sampling Ebert. According to the Guardian, it'll be debuting on his upcoming Oprah appearance. I'm excited for the guy and can't wait to hear it.