Roger Ebert watched so many films in his lifetime. And this is one good film he never got to see. Life Itself is the documentary about Ebert’s life. And since I heard about it at the end of last year, I looked forward to watching it. For a personal reason.
Roger Ebert was by far the most entertaining film writer I know and he changed my perspective on writing about films. Most of the film critique I read does not transpire a love for film but rather intellectuality at best or a certain ‘I know it all’ feel at worst. But Roger Ebert’s reviews were often an event in themselves for me. They had life without losing context, and despite the whole ‘mainstream reviewing’ discussion around his work, I do believe that stepping out of the ivory tower and writing honest savory reviews is what he did. Always.
Life Itself – the documentary – transpires Ebert’s love for films but also his love for life. ‘I was born inside the movie of my life‘ says the first line of his memoir. And it was a hell of a great life-movie! One surrounded by the charming aura of all those ‘good days’ cinema, with all the stories, the festivals, the people he met, some weird women in his youth, a great wife later on, some troubles along the way and a lot of writing. And of course, his famous love/hate relationship with film critic Gene Siskel, with whom he had a TV show for a long time and of which you probably don’t know about if you’re not from the US.
This documentary is not a plain account of Ebert’s life. It has charm and depth and it’s a sort of celebration of Ebert’s personality. He is a big guy yet so so human, honest, geeky and lively. And I was so touched and inspired by his perceptiveness and optimism, especially towards the end. His spirit is so impressive that what you’re left with after the film ends is not an image of a struggling man marked by so many medical procedures (this makes a large part of the film), but a courageous Ebert who kept his legendary humor and soul alive until the very end.