First Take: Two Thumbs Up for Ebert Print

Jim Emerson
Ebert Web Site Editor Jim Emerson. Photo courtesy of Jim Emerson.
On a typical weekday, Jim Emerson, ’84, sends about half a dozen emails to Roger Ebert. No, he’s not an overzealous fan of the film critic with the career-making thumb. He’s his Web editor. Since 2004, Emerson has been running—officially a property of the Chicago Sun-Times—from his home in Seattle. It’s a digital clearinghouse of all things Ebert, with every review he’s ever written for the Sun-Times (close to 7,000 total, going back to 1967), plus interviews, columns, photos, trailers, exchanges with readers, and Emerson’s own highly erudite film blog, Scanners. “I’m a horribly disorganized guy in my personal life,” Emerson says, “but I’m obsessed with organization when it comes to information on a gigantic, database-generated Web site.” Ebert is the ideal co-worker, Emerson says. “[He’s] extremely generous, and has more energy than I’ve ever had. (I like to sleep) ... He’s a treasured friend.” Needless to say, not everyone Emerson has to deal with is so pleasant—overzealous e-mailers do exist: “One of my favorites was a guy who wrote again to apologize. He said something like: ‘Please disregard my stupid and rude e-mail from last night. I was drunk and just letting off steam.’ That just nailed a reality of the Internet. ...But by and large I’m really amazed by the quality of thought and knowledge expressed in the mail we get. ... I’m not aware of any Ebert stalkers.”

Allison Sie
Actress Allison Sie as Aurora in Americanese, 2006 American Knees Productions.
One person who won’t be sending any angry letters to the Ebert site is Shawn Wong, professor of English at the UW. Wong was thrilled with Ebert’s March 31 review of Americanese, a movie based on his 1995 novel about the romantic lives of several young Asian Americans. Ebert praised the film for its subtle dialogue and convincing characters. “[I]t is above all about people seeking love and happiness in their lives,” he wrote. “That [they] are Asian in one way or another is a reality of their search, but not a condition of it.” Wong says he loved the review not because it was positive but because it was perceptive. “He so accurately captured the intent, purpose and substance of the movie. I couldn’t have put the words in his head any better.” Ebert is by no means alone in his admiration. “Americanese” picked up an audience award and a special jury award at the South by Southwest film festival in March. It will be released to theaters later this year.