DVD Review - Life Itself

This is the adaptation of Roger Ebert's 2011 memoir Life Itself. It's a documentary that started five months before Ebert's death in April 2013. Ebert died from complications with cancer. When the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic and author did die, I wrote a tribute or what was essentially an obituary for WBOC. Given that, there was not much in this movie that I didn't already know.

This doc was directed by Steve James. He along with other filmmakers who appear in this movie are filmmakers who loved or respected Ebert because Ebert at one point championed their films. Steve James made Hoop Dreams (1994) and Ebert famously cheered and propped up that movie. Werner Herzog, Errol Morris and recently Ramin Bahrani are some examples of filmmakers who were also cheered and propped up by Ebert. Therefore, Herzog, Morris and Bahrani speak glowingly about him.

The two exceptions are Martin Scorsese who reacts to a negative review that Ebert made on his defunct TV series Siskel & Ebert, and Ava DuVernay who met Ebert as a little girl and shared a connection with him prior to her filmmaking career. At one point, there are shots of Ebert's books that were compilations of movies he hated or thought were really bad. It would have been interesting to hear from the filmmakers of those movies.

There are some interesting things about Ebert's alcoholism and his relationship with his African-American wife whom he met later in his life and at an AA meeting. There's also some interesting things about Ebert's work as a newspaper editor, as well as some criticism from Richard Corliss in regards to Ebert's effect on film criticism.

Other than that, it's difficult to see Ebert in the months leading to his death where he required constant care. He couldn't walk. He couldn't feed himself, mainly because the cancer spread to his mouth necessitating the removal of his lower jaw. He could still write and he maintained his blog and social media presence, but his physical presence deteriorated.

The movie opens with a quote from Ebert where he says movies are a machine that generate empathy. This movie definitely does that for Ebert. Ironically, my favorite moments are those that don't actively try to be empathetic or fawning but yet objective.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for brief sexual images/nudity and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs.


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