"He is a soldier of cinema."
It should not come as a surprise that Roger Ebert is a bit of a hero of mine. He is an incredibly influential figure in the world of cinema and here is his life story. For anyone who considers themselves a fan of films then you have to know about Ebert. If you go to his website www.RogerEbert.com then you will find a statement that reads, ‘Roger Ebert loved movies’. Nothing could be as true as that.
Documenting the 70 year life of Roger Ebert, the most successful film critic of all time, this documentary explores his personal and professional life on an entirely new level, from his legendary arguments with colleague Gene Siskel to his tragic cancer diagnosis, with contributions from family and friends including Martin Scorsese himself.
While I may not agree with all of Ebert’s opinions on film (he was dismissive of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, I film I love, but named Juno as the best film of 2007, and I have never really liked Juno at all) his outspoken nature and passion for the movies was unrivalled and one that all critics hope to emulate in their own reviews. This may sound like an overstatement but when you have everyone from Oprah to Obama, and Spielberg in between, giving tributes to a man you know it’s pretty influential.
This documentary perfectly captures those elements of Ebert. Director Steve James (who indecently directed Hoop Dreams, a film that Ebert awarded four out of four stars) has been allowed full access to aspects of Ebert’s life during its final stages, including his hospital ward and home life. Despite his physical deterioration that old spirit within him is still burning as fiercely as ever. Life Itself manages to be innovative and informative whilst retaining a large amount of emotional depth. That is quite a feat for documentaries since they deal with facts and opinions, they are supposed to educate not evoke.
But here it seems as if this tone is entirely appropriate. Roger Ebert as more than just a guy who wrote about films, he entwined his own opinion with his life experiences, he drew what he knew from his own life to reach his judgement and nothing more. Considering he had an occupation that involved sitting down and typing, Life Itself does an excellent job at keeping the viewer interested. You would not have to be a fan of Ebert to enjoy this film, just a fan of movies.
But if you are a fan of Ebert then you will be delighted by the realm of unseen footage on offer here. The countless arguments and debates between Ebert and Siskel are worth the price of admission in my opinion. The more I see them together the more I realise how complex and humorous their relationship was. You could not create a pair like these two, you just couldn’t. Their varying opinions clash repeatedly, on more than one occasion one would physically try to overturn the other’s thumb when they cast their votes on At the Movies. The widows of both critics offer an insight to their personal and professional relationship, and to top it all off as I have already said, Martin Scorsese is there to offer his opinion.
Life Itself is a film worthy of critical acclaim, worthy of fans and followers of cinema but above all it is a film worthy of Roger Ebert. And praise does not come higher than that.