When film critic Roger Ebert announced his new review program, "Ebert Presents at the Movies," which premieres tomorrow, it was understood that the bulk of the show would be hosted by AP critic Christy Lemire and newcomer Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, in part because Ebert's cancer surgeries had required the removal of most of his mandible. For those familiar with his appearance on the Oscar red carpet or on "Siskel & Ebert," the change in his face after the surgeries was quite shocking, especially when it was featured so prominently in Chris Jones' fantastic Esquire profile from last year. But Ebert will be returning to television for the new show, in which he'll contribute a weekly segment called "Roger's Office." And for the program, he'll be debuting a new look, literally: He'll be wearing a prosthetic to cover his lower face.
Late last night, Ebert broke the news on his blog, revealing for the first time the "two-year process that has now resulted with my coming into possession of a silicone prosthesis." Using 3-D photos of Ebert and a bust made by a friend of his during art school years earlier, a team including doctors and an anaplastologist came up with a "device [that] would fit over my lower face and neck and, colored to match my skin, would pass muster at a certain distance." To demonstrate the craftsmanship of the work, Ebert even included a picture of himself wearing the prosthesis.
We have to say, the time spent getting this done right has paid off: It's pretty impressive work. People who grew up watching Ebert will most assuredly notice the difference, but in case Ebert or others worried that his surgery-disfigured face might scare off viewers, the new prosthesis will go a long way toward reassuring the skittish.
Still, that isn't the only change that people will notice with Ebert. The surgeries also robbed him of his voice in 2006, but he's gotten around the problem thanks to CereProc, a Scottish company that gave him a new digital voice compiled from Ebert's old audio recordings. (He debuted it on "Oprah" back in March, and it was shockingly similar to his actual voice.) So, even though Ebert has been through a lot in his cancer bouts, he'll very much be back tomorrow.
Except, of course, that Ebert has hardly been gone: In the last few years, he's been more prolific than he ever has, writing reviews and commentaries at a dizzying rate of consistent excellence. But, as he wrote in that same blog post, even as he prepares to unveil these changes on the show tomorrow, he knows he's not fooling anyone:
At the beginning of this process I assumed I would wear the new prosthesis whenever I left the house, so that "nobody would know." But everybody knows. The photograph of me that appeared in Esquire even found its way onto billboards in China. And something else has happened ... I accept the way I look. Lord knows I paid the dues.
Indeed. Seriously, none of us are ever allowed to complain about writer's block again after what he's been through. When we were kids, Roger Ebert was one of the writers who got us inspired about the art of film criticism. Nowadays, that inspiration extends far beyond movies to how to live life to the very, very fullest.