I grew up in an isolated town where the only movie theaters were a three-plex at the mall, and a twin cinema downtown. The proprietors of these establishments typically played it safe with the movies they brought in, only showing the most middle of the road Hollywood fare. Despite this impediment I started on my cinephile journey in high school. Much of this has to be credited to a fantastic local video store that stocked just about everything. However, I would not known what to look for if not for Roger Ebert.
As a teenager, I watched Siskel & Ebert every week. At first they really intimidated me, because they could be brutally critical with stuff they didn't like, and they heaped praise on movies I'd never heard of, and which didn't come within 100 miles of being exhibited in my hometown. I slowly began to realize that I had spent my life watching movies uncritically, without reflection, and had wasted much of my time on garbage. They mentioned worthier films like Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, and Taxi Driver, and I sought them out. After that and a dose of Stanley Kubrick, I never looked back.
Once I took off for college in a city with a thriving art house cinema, I finally got to enjoy independent and foreign movies on the big screen. Watching quality films became one of my most cherished hobbies, and Ebert was my guide. With the advent of the internet, I especially benefited from his Great Movies series, which gave me ideas and pointers on where to look in the video store. After college I landed in Chicago (and later Champaign-Urbana), and I made sure to buy a copy of the Sun-Times every Friday to read his reviews, which guided me to all kinds of films I never would have seen otherwise. His passionate opinions and nimble prose drew me in week after week and never failed to give me insight. With his passing we have lost a true giant, one who will not be replaced in our current, fragmentary cultural landscape.