Roger Ebert was the first journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize for criticism, a pondering point for the annoying horde of much lesser critics.
Employing Ebert’s best-selling memoir of the same name as a template, Steve James (Hoop Dreams) directed the film that recounts the inspiring and entertaining life of the film critic and social commentator who once gave the United States two thumbs down for the conflict in Viet Nam. Life Itself is personal, funny, painful and transcendent. Though the hospital scenes may be difficult to watch they are brightened by the wounded Ebert’s phenomenal determination and the inspiring, touching relationship with his wife Chaz. Ebert valiantly stood firm against the cancer to which he eventually succumbed but not before putting a new face on the disease, literally and figuratively, while continuing to be a cultural force.
This film does not pull its punches as it unsentimentally recounts Ebert’s early years as a self-loathing alcoholic, his memorable run with Gene Siskel, the annoying brother he never had, and with whom he sculpted some fine tv debates on the virtues or failings of a variety of movies, some of which achieved atmospheric proportions as a result, ie. Hoop Dreams. As one friend put it, “Siskel was a rogue planet in Roger’s solar system.” What may well shine through is Ebert’s compulsion to control people and their opinions, revealed in hilariously vicious outtakes. His competitiveness mellowed as he aged.
The warp and weave of this wonderfully woven tapestry include candid interviews with old school newspaper pals, the Chicago Sun-Times, other critics, including Film Comments Richard Corliss with whom he feuded about consumer advocate movie reviewing. Also included in the interviews are Martin Scorsese, who co-produced the film and Werner Herzog (Cave of Forgotten Dreams). Interviews with Gene Siskel are from archival footage.
So far Life Itself is nominated for Special Jury Award for James at the Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival. It scored 87% from Rotten Tomatoes out of 6500 users and 81% from 2500 users on IMDB (Internet Movie Database).
Life Itself is a presentation of Spotlight Films and will be shown Tuesday October 28 at 7:30 pm at the Gem Theatre.
Thanks to IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, Ken Eisner of The Georgia Straight, Maureen and Marius Paquet of the Gem Theatre, and our sponsors and patrons.