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Documentary Review - Life Itself - Adapted from Roger Ebert's Memoir (2014)

By Edited Apr 11, 2016 0 0

Introduction

This documentary takes its title from a memoir of the same name, written by Roger Ebert in 2011.  Roger always knew he could write.  When he was a teenager, he published a newspaper and delivered it to his neighbors.  When he was fifteen, he worked full time for a local paper as a school sports writer.  He was accepted as a Ph.D. candidate in English at the University of Illinois, but he needed a job and had to turn down his studies.  He was on the staff of the Daily Illini, and was an editor there when John F. Kennedy was shot.  At the time, he was the youngest daily movie critic in the country.

                        

Roger Ebert

                                                                Roger Ebert - Wikimedia

Alcoholism

O’Rourke’s Tavern was in the neighborhood of where he worked.  He patronized the place each evening.  When O’Rourke’s closed for the evening, he went down the street to The Ale House which was open longer.  He paid the price in hangovers.  In August 1979, he took his last drink and went to AA.  For 33 years, he never had another drink.

He met his wife Chaz at an AA meeting.  Roger became public about his addiction, but Chaz liked to remain private about hers.  Roger was 50 years old when he married Chaz.  She is African-American and the love of his life.  She claimed that he weighed 300 lbs. when they first started dating.  Roger claims that if Chaz had not been with him, he would have fallen into decrepitude.

                                     

Chicago Sun-Times

                                                  The Chicago Sun-Times - Wikimedia

The Chicago Sun-Times

Roger was a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times for 46 years until his death in 2013.  At one point, the newspaper, which was a working-class paper, was sold and Roger claimed that he would not be going “across the street,” that is, to the Chicago Tribune, where his fellow critic Gene Siskel worked.  Siskel and Ebert had a long-running film review program on television where they coined the phrase “Two-Thumbs-Up” if both agreed that a film rated a positive review.  “Siskel and Ebert at the Movies” was seen for 23 years, and was originally called “Sneak Previews.”

Relationship Between Siskel and Ebert

The two critics initially did not care for each other.  They each considered the other one superfluous.  It was difficult in the beginning; their lifestyles were so different.  They could get agitated with each other.  It was a matching of opposites.  Siskel had been a philosophy major at Yale; Ebert was a newspaper reporter.  Siskel was a natural on television.  He was told, however, to get rid of his moustache, which he did.  The pair traded verbal barbs at each other when they discussed a film.  The success of the show was undeniable.

                                       

Gene Siskal

                                                            Gene Siskel - Wikimedia          

Pulitzer Prize

Roger Ebert won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1976.  It was the first time a film critic was awarded the prize.  He could have gone anywhere after receiving that honor, but he chose to stay at the Chicago Sun-Times.  He turned down many offers.  His reasoning was that he was not going to learn new streets.  Another honor bestowed upon him in 2005 was having his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Pauline Kael

Roger placed a high value on the film criticism of Pauline Kael who wrote for the New Yorker magazine.  She elevated film writing and film criticism to an art.  For the first time, film critics were being taken seriously.  She and Roger met for the first time in 1967.  In 1970, Roger was asked to write the screenplay for “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” which was directed by Russ Meyer.  The movie was originally panned but went on to be regarded as a cult classic.

The Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado

For over forty years, Roger was a panelist at the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado.  He initiated the format called “Cinema Interruptus” which was legendary, as the crowd was taught how to analyze a film through the eyes of the critic.  It was a central part of his life, providing cinematic insight and comic relief, sometimes talking for five hours to the audience.  Roger stopped attending the Conference after losing his power of speech from his cancer treatments.  He worked with a voice synthesizer, and did not want to go to the Conference with it.

                                                  

Pulitzer Prize Medal

                                                        Pulitzer Prize Medal - Wikimedia

Their Popularity Soars

Siskel and Ebert were frequent guests of Johnny Carson, David Letterman, and Oprah Winfrey.  Their popularity grew nation-wide.  They often decided things by a coin toss.  That is why they became known as Siskel and Ebert; Siskel won the coin toss.  Siskel felt that Ebert was used to getting his own way because he had been an only child.  Gene Siskel’s wife, who was widowed in 1999, said that as long as Roger was alive, a little bit of Gene still lived.  She put their relationship in perspective after Roger Ebert passed away.  She remarked that, in spite of their many differences, the two men were like brothers; they really loved and respected each other. 

Appreciation of Colleagues

Martin Scorsese received a tribute at the Film Festival in Toronto.  His career at the time was at a low ebb.  He was asked by Siskel and Ebert to be the honoree at that year’s Night of the Stars.  The tribute changed everything for him.  It started his life again.

Roger once received a Thank You letter from Laura Dern.  It accompanied a jigsaw puzzle box and puzzle.  Laura said it had belonged to Marilyn Monroe and was given to her by Alfred Hitchcock.  She wanted Roger to have it.

Roger and Chaz

When Roger married Chaz, he did not know how his family was going to take it.  She was not Catholic and she was not white.  After a while, his family accepted her.  Chaz changed his life and his personality.  They loved each other deeply.

 

Chaz, Roger and Nancy Kwan

                                                Chaz, Roger, and Nancy Kwan - Wikimedia

Roger’s Cancer Diagnosis

When he learned that he had thyroid cancer, Chaz was always at his side.  The cancer spread to his jawbone which had to be removed.  He could no longer speak.  He was then diagnosed with tumors on his spine which caused a hairline fracture to the femur bone, which was extremely painful.  He was in Rehab a total of seven times.  The film shows an episode where the nurse was suctioning his throat.  Chaz did not want that regular process shown, but Roger had it done at a time when Chaz was not there.

He was not depressed over his illness.  He continued to write his blog.  He had 800,000 followers on Twitter and 100,000 followers on Facebook.  In his lifetime, he had seen 10,000 movies and reviewed 6,000 of them.

Roger Ebert’s Death - April 4, 2013

When his Email output started to trickle, he admitted he did not want to fight it this time.  He wanted to go.  Chaz knew it was time to accept it.  She put on Dave Brubeck’s music.  Chaz said it was so peaceful; he looked young, he looked happy.

 

Life Itself: A Memoir
Amazon Price: $17.00 $1.85 Buy Now
(price as of Apr 11, 2016)
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