Cert: 15 Runtime: 120 mins Director: Steve James Cast: Roger Ebert, Chaz Ebert, Gene Siskel, Martin Scorsese and Werner Herzog
There are no strangers in family: I loved and am loved
Last year we lost a great film critic in Roger Ebert, for many he was the modern day godfather of film criticism. For myself I have only come across Ebert’s work over the last 5 years. I have learnt a great deal on how to improve my writing skills and my presentation to readers. It seems strange reviewing a documentary about a film critic but here we go. What is Life Itself all about then? ‘Life Itself’ recounts the surprising and entertaining life of world-renowned film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert – a story that’s by turns personal, wistful, funny, painful, and transcendent. The film explores the impact and legacy of Roger Ebert’s life: from his Pulitzer Prize-winning film criticism and his nearly quarter-century run with Gene Siskel on their review show, to becoming one of the country’s most influential cultural voices, and finally to Roger’s inspiring battles with cancer and the resulting physical disability – how he literally and symbolically put a new face on the disease and continued to be a cultural force despite it.This movie biography of Roger Ebert is not a typical one that starts in childhood and proceeds linearly, touching on high points. It interleaves various aspects of Ebert’s life in a somewhat random order.In his life Ebert gained recognition mainly as a film critic, but he was also a skilled writer, lecturer, and general intellectual gadfly. This movie places what I consider undue emphasis on Ebert’s illnesses in the last decade of his life. Indeed, his courage in facing illness is altogether admirable and inspiring, but only a small part of what I think he should be remembered for.
I would like to have had some readings from his writings to show how good he was at that, and examples from his blog where he held forth on dozens of serious topics in a thoughtful and insightful manner.The movie does detail the good fortune that Roger had in finding a mate in Chaz and marrying her when he was fifty years old. The fact that this was a loving and joyful union is well documented.This is not a eulogy in that it presents some of Ebert’s flaws, like his being a bit of an arrogant ass as a young man, his late-night bar hopping, his alcoholism, his egotistical insistence that he always be right, and so forth.After watching several of Ebert’s lectures my main takeaway was that this was a man who bristled with intelligence and wit, having broad interests and knowledge that went way beyond film. If I had not known much about the man before seeing this movie, I would think that I was being encouraged to remember Ebert his illnesses rather than his being a polymath.If this movie had been focused primarily on Ebert’s illness and how he handled that, then that might be a good movie; if this had been about Ebert the person, focusing on his childhood, his relationships with actors, directors, friends, colleagues, and enemies, then that might be a good movie; if the focus were on his relationship with Chaz from beginning to end, then that might be a good movie; if the focus were on Ebert the lecturer, writer, wit, and intellectual, then then that might be a good movie. Trying to squeeze all of that into a single movie without any unifying thread is overly ambitious and it left me wanting a more balanced presentation.