Roger Ebert had a fantastic life. The medical issues of his last few years were difficult and his passing last year was sad, but his was a life full of high points. The new documentary film Life Itself shows Roger Ebert in all stages of his life, but is most revealing during last portion when he was faced with one health challenge after another.
Though he is best known for talking about movies on TV, mainly with fellow critic Gene Siskel, Life Itself makes it clear the Roger Ebert was an immensely talented writer.
An excerpt from a byline piece he wrote for the Daily Illini after the 1964 Birmingham church bombing is featured in the film. An on-screen commenter opines that the column from this 21-year-old was the best thing written after the incident.
Ebert’s review of Bonnie and Clyde, written early in his tenure as film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times proves to be an accurate assessment of that film’s importance.
Among the film’s highlights are outtakes from his work with Siskel. Their relationship was contentious for many years but got better as they got older and realized the value of their partnership. Several of the show’s producers and Siskel’s widow provide useful perspectives.
As they became famous, they often guested on the Johnny Carson show. In one of the movie’s funniest clips, Ebert trashes the film Three Amigos while sitting next to Chevy Chase, one of the film’s stars. Chase’s takes are hilarious.
While Ebert’s wife Chaz is mentioned prominently in the book Life, Itself, she is even more front and center in the movie. She provides support and caregiving during his health crises and shares numerous meaningful observations.
Some viewers may find the nurses’ suctioning of Ebert’s throat and other hospital scenes hard to watch, but Ebert and Chaz were okay with cameras being there. Chaz mentions Ebert having been hurt by Siskel’s decision not to share word of his terminal illness with Roger. Ebert, in turn, vowed to be open about his cancer, even posing for the cover of Esquire magazine after cancer had affected his appearance.
For fans of movies, especially those who enjoy talking about movies and reading movie reviews, Life Itself is a film you need to see. And Roger Ebert, the critic and the man, is a person you’ll appreciate knowing more about.