I’m not a man of regrets as most of you know, but I do wish I moved a little faster and had a film or a performance that was reviewed by Roger Ebert. Along with Gene Siskel, he was America’s (hell, the world’s) film critic, and the new documentary Life Itself captures his personal and professional life tremendously well.
Chicago born and bred, the film uses Ebert’s autobiography as the backdrop of how this small town chubby kid from Southern Illinois became an American icon. His perfect use of constructive criticism (which I certainly try to emulate) earned him generations of followers, both among the film geeks who would tune in weekly to his show, the studios who would come to have a mostly love (though it started as hate) relationship with him, and even a bond with many of the filmmakers who would become his peers (among them Martin Scorsese and Ava DuVernay, who both appear in this film). His most high profile relationship, with Gene Siskel, gets the appropriate coverage here (there was definitely some alpha dog fights between the two of them), along with the show they created that was Pardon the Interruption for movies wayyyyy before we had it for sports.
Life Itself also goes really in-depth to Ebert’s marriage to his wife Chaz. How they met and how each’s family felt about interracial marriage; I’ll let you watch the doc itself to hear those stories. A lot of the ‘present day’ scenes in the film are in the hospital, where we see what he (and she) dealt with on a daily basis when his body started to betray him. I could do a whole separate post on marriages that work and what ‘for better or worse’ really means. Those two clearly had it, and it’s really beautiful and inspiring and sad at times to see.
So as a film geek of course I’m absurdly biased on this one, but I think if you’re a Roger Ebert fan, you have to see this one. In theatres now and streaming on iTunes and On Demand.