“Life Itself” is an absolutely fascinating, absorbing, entertaining and honest documentary about the life and work of film critic Roger Ebert. Being a big fan of Ebert’s work (granted I have not always agreed with him) on TV and in writing, and having once seen him and his TV partner, Gene Siskel, at an appearance at the Museum of TV & Radio (now the Paley Center), I just could not get enough of “Life Itself.” In fact, the only criticism I can think of is that I wanted it to be longer than its current two hour running length. As a result, I cannot wait for the DVD extras.
I have heard it said that when we go to a movie we bring our own experience and that this effects, at least in part, how we experience the film. That having been said, and in the interest of full disclosure, I am someone who used to tape Siskel and Ebert’s TV movie review shows, which changed names over the years. I would record the episodes at the slow speed (EP), in order to fit as many episodes onto a VHS tape as possible. Then, using the counter on the VCR, I would carefully catalogue the location of each movie title reviewed. Once I saw a particular film I would then fast forward the tape to the approximate location of the review for that movie. I have also read, (and re-read) just about all of Ebert’s many books.
“Life Itself” has been directed by Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”), executive produced by Martin Scorsese with the generous cooperation of Chaz Ebert, Ebert’s wife who plays a pivotal role in the film. “Life Itself” picks up Ebert during what was to be his last four months. The film does not shy away from showing us the seriousness of Ebert’s bout with salivary cancer. Some of these scenes are difficult to watch. Through it all though, Ebert is seen as a hopeful, happy man.
“Life Itself” has a lively, nicely edited collection of interviews with Ebert’s friends, colleagues, grand children, Chaz and Gene Siskel’s wife, Marlene. The film also utilizes generous amounts of clips including a very funny sequence of behind the scenes footage of Siskel and Ebert shooting a promo for their show and bickering in between takes. “Life Itself” is also filled with the expected biographical information on Ebert – where he grew up, his parents, how he got into film criticism.
A late neighbor of mine, an avid reader of “The New Yorker” magazine, told me he once wrote a letter to “The New Yorker” after having read one of Pauline Kael’s film criticisms. He asked the following question, “Well did she like the movie or didn’t she?” In the case of Ebert there was never any question as to how he felt about a particular film. He added greatly to the fun of going to the movies. “Life Itself” captures this.
Posted on June 23, 2014, in Uncategorized and tagged Chaz Ebert, Hoopo Dreams, Life Itself, Martin Scorsese, Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert, Steve James, The New Yorker. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.