Brilliant, profoundly, even squeamishly honest; Roger Ebert’s life (1942-2013) is splayed across the screen; redolent of a life pungently, passionately imbibed; almost singlehandedly he elevated the art of film to the celestial; uncompromising, through vicissitudes, heartache, glory he “did it his way”. Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) and Mr. Ebert gift audiences a documentary, that regardless of one’s attraction to movies, must be experienced; gripping in its presentation, seemingly fictional, we watch a child, a prodigious writer, evolve from adolescence, college to the ultimate icon of film criticism; his scholarship imbues every frame, resulting in awe, wonder, and colossal admiration.
Primarily, based upon Roger Ebert’s autobiography of the same title, the film commences near the finale of Mr. Ebert’s life; jawless, speechless, in unrequited pain, communicating with hand-written notes; loving care, graced upon him by Chaz, his wife of twenty years; his vibrancy, spunk and intransigent fearlessness pounds with every gesture and the gleam in his eyes; his wish was to reveal every wart, grievance, not a secret camouflaged or ignored.
Imbued with interviews from the myriad of individuals whose careers he ignited: Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, Ramin Bahrani; the fire, poignancy, guts of the film revolves around the prescient remarks by Chaz Ebert, Marlene Iglitzen Siskel and the contentions, conflicted, enigmatic pairing; dialogues between Roger and Gene Siskel (1946-1999) and the milieu they created, “At the Movies..Siskel/Ebert”, resonated then, and still does universally. From 1975 they were fused, first on Public Television; virally from 1986-1999; after Gene’s death Roger had a number of co-hosts until 2010.
Gene’s reticence about his ailing health left Roger devastated; he was denied a farewell; possibly a catalyst for “Life Itself” addressing the cancerous man-eating disease, its ugliness eventually demolishing, erasing life itself.
“Life Itself” presents a landscape laden with love; love of one’s life, profession; love and dedication for those who shed harmony, exhilaration, pertinence, joy to one’s every breath, step, heartbeat.