Published September 11, 2008
CHICAGO – Film critic Roger Ebert on Thursday confirmed that a fellow critic yelled at him and whacked him on the knee with a program during a movie screening at the Toronto Film Festival last weekend, but said incident was "blown out of proportion."
"It has been blown out of proportion. It is of little interest," Ebert said in a column posted Thursday on the Web site of the Chicago Sun-Times, where he has been a critic since 1967.
Ebert, who has battled cancer in recent years and was left unable to speak, did not name the other critic involved in the incident. But he said an account published in the New York Daily News that named the other man as rival New York Post movie critic Lou Lumenick was "truthful."
Lumenick did not return an e-mail from The Associated Press after business hours on Thursday.
Saturday's incident began, Ebert said, when he could not see subtitles for the film "Slumlord Millionaire" because the man sitting in front of him was leaning into the aisle.
"In my medical condition I cannot speak, I tapped him lightly on the shoulder, and gestured him to move over a little. He said, 'Don't touch me!' and remained in position. I tapped him lightly again. 'I said — don't touch me!' He leaned further into the aisle, as if making a point of it. I tapped him a third time, and he jumped up and whacked me on the knee with whatever it was," Ebert said.
Ebert wrote that he tapped the man a fourth time, "just to show I wasn't intimidated." The man was later moved to another seat.
"This whole matter was embarrassing, because it drew attention to me and invited pity, which makes me cringe," said Ebert, former host of the syndicated show "At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper."
While Ebert said he thought the man was wrong for blocking his sight line, the Pulitzer Prize winner said he felt sorry for him.
"He had no idea who was behind him when he smacked me," Ebert wrote. "Now it looked like he was picking on poor me. I have had my problems, but I promise you I am plenty hearty enough to withstand a smack, and quite happy, after the smack, to tap him again."
Ebert ended the column with, "I had to see those subtitles. There was no pain. The incident is over. Peace."