I took advantage of the Itunes .99 ongoing rental sale of documentaries and downloaded Life Itself. The documentary is based on the memoir by Roger Ebert and filmed during the last days of his life.
If you don’t know who Roger Ebert is, you are probably under the age of 30. He was a movie critic, so good that he won the Pulitzer Prize, and with rival/television partner Gene Siskel, gave us the famous ‘Thumbs Up’ that use to be on every movie poster. If a movie got ‘Two Thumbs Up’, the moviegoer knew it was worth the price of admission.
Ebert was an interesting person, a fact that comes out from the first frame of this film. He was also very public. Admitting he was an alcoholic for instance or going public with the travails of his illness.
It is painful to watch Ebert at the end. He spoke with the help of a computer, his lower jaw having been remove and at the right angle, you can see through it. But until the very end he kept right on writing. Just before his death, he even wrote a column thanking his readers over the years and basically saying goodbye.
I was surprised by how much animosity there was between Ebert and Siskel, especially in the beginning of their relationship. I probably shouldn’t be, considering they were rivals. They eventually became friends but it took a while and the outtakes from their tv show – which half the country watched at some point – shows the progression of that relationship.
Roger Ebert – and Gene Siskel – influenced a lot of filmmakers. In the movie, Martin Scorsese credits them with literally saving his life and career. Other filmmakers speak of Roger’s generosity over the years and to his credit, Roger actively sought out unknown talent, to encourage them, lend a hand, and put them out there. Errol Morris states quite frankly, without them, he had no chance of a career.
What helped make Roger Ebert – and Gene Siskel – good as critics was that you could learn from them. Now they often had different opinions but their discussions were informative, plain spoken so that the average guy could understand the point about cinema being made. If you paid attention, if you were aspiring to be a writer or filmmaker, you picked up pointers on what worked and was appealing to an audience or what turned them off. I know I learned some nuggets of truth from them over the years.
Life Itself is worth the view. I’d like to check out the memoir someday because Ebert was a true writer. For the film, hit up the Itunes store for that .99 rental. The film is 5/5 in my book.