Like many of us, Roger Ebert liked to scour Wikipedia late at night. He read about silent films, lauded actors, and television personalities. And every now and then between 2004 and 2009, he inserted revisions of his own.
At least that's what Wikipedia admin think. The prominent film critic apparently built a presence on the online encyclopedia as the user "Rebert." Though his identity was never confirmed, there's plenty of evidence it was him: "Rebert" only linked to Ebert's work and added insight demonstrating expansive film knowledge. Plus, Ebert himself often praised and referenced Wikipedia in his reviews.
Now, Netherlands-based Australian artist and documentarian Quenton Miller has traced Ebert's virtual Wiki-tracks and collected all of Ebert's edits into a single print book. The book isn't for sale—Miller only made a single copy for himself. But its 45 pages are full of Ebert's Wikipedia edits presented opposite the original text.
"I was writing a lot about Wikipedia, and I became very interested in tracking down someone well known who also writes or edits on Wikipedia," he says. "I was intrigued, I was quite surprised at how [the edits] fit into Ebert's work as a film reviewer."
For example, Ebert's connection to Chicago—he grew up near the city and spent more than four decades as the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times—makes his 2008 edit of Gotham City's Wikipedia page especially illuminating. Under a section devoted to representations of Batman's fictional home in film, Ebert's revision (which Miller characterizes as a "quite nerdy argument") crackled with pride for his hometown:
Of the five feature-length Batman films, only the third, "Batman Forever," (1995) was filmed partly in New York City, with additional locations in California, Oregon and Israel. Of the others, "Batman" (1989) was filmed in London. "Batman Returns" (1992) was filmed on the back lots and sound stages of Warner Brothers in Burbank. "Batman and Robin" (1997) was filmed in California, Texas, Canada, Vermont and Austria. "Batman Begins" (2005) was filmed in London, Chicago, Iceland and Waukegan, IL. "The Dark Knight," (2008), the film depending most on exteriors, was filmed entirely on location in Chicago, including recognizable shots using the Sears Tower, the Trump Tower, LaSalle St. and Navy Pier (for the Joker's seemingly fatal joke involving the two boats). Based on the films, Chicago seems to have the best claim as Gotham City, followed by California and London.
Of course, not all of Ebert's edits were this extensive. He edited sparingly—totaling just 18 Wikipedia entries—and preferred to pepper the chosen pages with links to his own columns. (Only his final edit, done in 2009, was flagged as a "possible conflict of interest" for the self-linking.) One of them, for the Wikipedia page on the "Inherently funny word," noted his own belief that "turtle" was, well, an inherently funny word.
To Miller, the curious presence of Ebert on Wikipedia and the subsequent changes to Ebert's revisions are more fascinating than the edits themselves. Ebert may have been famous for his writing, but on Wikipedia, he was just another contributor whose words could eventually be buried under others'.
And that was the point, Miller says, of making a collection of them.
"There's a really interesting tension between Wikipedia being an encyclopedia and the different ways people write in it," he says. "It's kind of surprising, because he's this amazing writer, and some of the edits are quite well written or witty in places. In the end, they turned into encyclopedia entries."
Not that Ebert (or, "Rebert") minded, it seems. He never re-revised any pages, and quietly stopped making changes in 2009. Even so, the Wikipedia community has preserved Ebert's page as a memorial after his death in 2013 (along with a fitting "See you at the movies!" note), and his edits remain accessible—a move surely worthy of Ebert's signature "two thumbs up."