'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. Written by
As someone who literally grew up at the movies--my mother took me to anything and everything from my infancy right through my early childhood, until I was old enough to go by myself--my love for and fascination with film is deeply entrenched in my way of thinking, my way of writing, my way of viewing life. And Roger Ebert (with Gene Siskel) was a vital discovery, someone whose opinions were always worth hearing (or reading); someone whose love for film and his way of thinking about it seemed to legitimize my lifelong instinct to appraise and quantify the value of what I was being shown on the big screen. It was all right to question things, or to accept the questionable.
I was staying at my favorite hotel in London some years ago (the mid 80s, as I recall) with a writer friend from Oslo (another lover of film and theater). She and I were having a late-night post-theater meal in the lounge when Roger came bustling through on the way to his room. I nearly levitated from my seat at the sight of him, and after he'd passed from view, I tried, a bit deliriously, to explain to my friend who this man was, and his importance to the world of film. She was awe-struck when I spoke of the format of the show, of two men agreeing or disagreeing over forthcoming films. There was nothing like it anywhere outside of the U.S.
As I watched this documentary, I kept remembering that evening at Brown's Hotel way back then, thinking that Roger would have given this film a wholehearted thumbs up. It is wonderfully coherent, and offers insights into the man, into his extraordinary talents and his tremendous enthusiasm, not just for film but for life and the people he loved. It's not hard to understand how difficult it was for his remarkable wife Chaz to let him go.
Like all good films, it left me sated but sad, missing those years of the wonderful weekly excitement of sitting down with my daughter (now also a lifelong film buff) to watch Sneak Previews and, subsequently, At The Movies. This is a film *not* to be missed. It succeeds on every level.
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