A few weeks ago I went to see the documentary about the legendary film critic Roger Ebert called “Life Itself”. The film shares the name of his autobiography.
As a film buff I grew up watching “Siskel and Ebert”. Back in the early to mid-1990’s it was the best way for a gay boy living in the sticks of Colorado to become aware of films that weren’t standard Hollywood fare.
The film is a great example of how a documentary can be every bit as powerful as a feature film. It seems like an extremely honest portrait of Roger Ebert. It shows all of his good attributes, specifically his contributes to movies and how he played a big role in bringing film critiques into the mainstream. However, it also shows his dark side; like his alcoholism and his often contentious relationship with Gene Siskel.
I really admire Roger Ebert, not just for what he did for the art of film (and it is an art), but to be brave enough to show the world his struggle with cancer. The courage it shows to be photographed and filmed for this documentary after having his lower jaw removed is amazing.
The film is difficult to watch at times, but Ebert’s spirit and bright eyes keep you watching and caring for him.
Of course everybody knows he died but that doesn’t make the end of the documentary any easier to watch. The end is hard to watch, not just because of Ebert’s death, but because as Gene Siskel’s widow said at Roger Ebert’s funeral “I felt that as long as Robert was alive part of Gene was too.” Roger Ebert’s death truly marked the end of an era.
The film had an extra bit of personal touch for me because it shows Roger Ebert attending the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado at Boulder and that is where I got my undergraduate degree in film studies.
Unfortunately, I never attended a panel with Robert Ebert. I really wish that I had. Especially after seeing how he would interact with the audience.
“Life Itself” is still in theatres and it is defiantly work seeing if you are at all familiar with Roger Ebert’s work. In honor of both him and Gene Siskel I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up.
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