“I was born inside the movie of my life. The visuals were before me, the audio surrounded me, the plot unfolded inevitably but not necessarily. I don’t remember how I got into the movie, but it continues to entertain me.”
Directed by: Steve James
Based on his bestselling memoir of the same name, Life Itself, explores the impact and legacy of Roger Ebert’s life, from his Pulitzer Prize-winning film criticism at the Chicago Sun-Times to becoming one of the most influential cultural voices in America.
To take a cue from the man himself when reviewing a film, what is it about, and how did it make you feel?
With regards to Life Itself, on the surface it’s a simple documentary about the life, career, and ultimately, the death of the most recognisable and celebrated film critic in history. But scratching beneath the surface you’ll find an incredible tale of a man who whilst certainly flawed, was passionate about film and his family, and who in spite of an illness which took away his voice managed to share his words, engage the minds of filmgoers, and touch the hearts of those he loved and who loved him to his final moments.
As for how Life Itself makes you feel – well that’s a wholly different scenario altogether. Whilst the film is touched with melancholy given by the impending inevitability of Ebert’s departure, sadness isn’t the overriding emotion here. Quite simply Ebert is too funny, inspirational in life, as well as in the face of death and too fascinating a “character” and person inside the movie of his own life that it’s impossible not to be swept up by his story, from his humble beginnings as editor of his college paper, to Pulitzer Prize winning film critic, and cohost of his own television show. It’s a sad film yes, but also uplifting and often hilarious.
Ebert’s popularity stemmed from his no nonsense approach to critiquing film, with him showing the world that flowery language and elitism were (and still are) no substitute for actual filmic knowledge and a belief in what he wrote. This no nonsense, honest attitude comes across beautifully throughout the film and in the man himself, making him a remarkably likeable hero, loved not only by his fans and family, but also by peers in the film industry and the very filmmakers whose films he would review (and often pick to pieces).
It is a film that should be essential viewing not just film fans, but for fans of humanity, as Ebert’s tale is one of inspiration, sorrow and love, for cinema, family and for life itself.
Deeply moving, inspirational and powerful, Life Itself is a beautifully made portait of cinema’s finest critic, and a must see masterclass in documentary filmmaking. Two thumbs up.
Rating (out of 5):