Archive for the ‘Life Itself’ Category

Life Itself

About a year before Roger Ebert died I got to see him leaving a book signing for his memoir Life Itself outside of a Barnes & Noble.  His wife Chaz was helping him out of his wheelchair and in to their passenger van, and Roger was giving his signature thumbs up to the small crowd sending him off.  I stopped and stared, and gave a small wave as well.  I would have loved to go up to him and say hello and thank him for his vast work in film and how it has changed my life.   I was actually on my way to the movies with my wife though, and didn’t want to interrupt the man.  I was after all late for the movies.

Roger drove me to the movies as a young child.  Some of my first memories are coming home after church to catch Siskel & Ebert on TV.  At the time I didn’t really understand why I was captured by these two men sitting in chairs and talking about movies.  It was simple though.  I loved movies, and I still love movies, and these two characters were the experts on all things film.

Life Itself is directed by Steve James of Hoop Dreams fame, and aside from perhaps Errol Morris, he’s the only person that could truly capture Roger’s life on screen.  The film is an extension of his 2011 book of the same name, and follows Roger’s life has a young reporter up until his final days.  Roger lived a remarkable life as a film critic and Pulitzer prize winning author.  We see all of that here in James film, but Life Itself is just as much about Roger as it is about his wife Chaz and their life together.  That’s what makes the film more than just your average documentary.  Chaz changed Roger’s life for the better and she’s an integral part of the film as we witness Roger’s last days.  She is the one that still carries on Roger’s legacy and importance in film.

We get to see that Roger was not perfect.  He was a perfectionist however and he could be difficult at times.  His relationship with Gene Siskel was some what strained, but really only because he wanted to be better than Gene, and Gene wanted to be better than him.  They both wanted to be “right”.

Roger’s life changed film criticism on a global scale and really helped to catapult the American independent film movement.  Because of Roger’s reviews hundreds of films were deemed important and reached a larger audience.  Some of the filmmakers he helped during that time were actually interviewed for the film.

When Roger died it left a hole in the film community, but he left behind an almost limitless library of writings, essays, books, and especially reviews for the entire world to access.  Now he leaves behind this portrait of his life, and James did a fantastic job of bringing that to us.

Grade: A