toomuchnoiseblog

Film Reviews and Discussion.

Life Itself (2014) – Documentary on the late, great Roger Ebert arrives on DVD

Life Itself

****

Director: Steve James

Duration: 120 mins (US)

By Greg Wetherall (@gregwetherall)

Is it an essential requisite that anyone who dare elect themselves as a professional critic must be in possession of an unhealthy level of self-righteousness? Is this the grease for the wheel? Is it this rampaging egocentric component that forms the lifeblood of judgemental conviction? And, in the modern world of social media, is there a place for the film critic?

Life Itself traces Roger Ebert’s life; the Illinois upstart who became the closest film criticism has ever had to a household name and, arguably, the preeminent American movie critic of all time. His rapid rise to fame came at a point when print was the prince and the television was the king, and he roamed both with a towering omnipresence that made him synonymous with film comment up until his untimely death in 2013.

Steve James, the director of such luminous and talismanic documentaries as Hoop Dreams[1] (1994) and The Interrupters (2011), casts his eye over Ebert’s life and times. Beginning with archive footage of Roger expounding his ethos on life and film at the Roger Ebert Star Dedication in 2005, Life Itself is quick to recognise the sad coincidence of filming the documentary and the rapid deterioration of Ebert’s health in late 2012. James explains the unexpected change of direction after the opening credits roll. From there, he opts to dip in and out of the present whilst proceeding to compliment the pages of Ebert’s memoir.

Life ItselfWe hear testimony of how a wet-behind-the-ears and eager Ebert cut his prodigious teeth with a disarming combination of balls and brains; no better showcased than when he passed into local newspaper lore during his editorship of the Daily Illini for famously stopping the presses with a Kane-esque sense of command to prevent an ill-judged advert clash on the day JFK was assassinated.

From there, his reputation and impact grew from position to position with a voracity that was equal to his appetite for alcohol consumption. It is here that the dichotomy of success and personal pain is rendered with a blunt lack of glamour, through archival photos, talking heads and Ebert’s own words from his memoir.

His rocky relationship with fellow critic Gene Siskel feels like a concocted storyline but is all true. What a passionately incongruent, curmudgeonly ill-spirited team they were; the true life Statler and Waldorf. And yet, it is they who bore televisual fruit in spite of appearance, jostling egos, caustic exchanges and a relentless, bitter dislike for one another. Like a good fictional story, the fact that familiarity resulted in not only begrudging admiration, but affection, is a lovely twist in the tale.

Similarly, the loyalty and support of his wife and keeper of the flame, Chaz Ebert, emerges as a romance superior to the construct of any Hollywood hack. Her steadfast commitment is made abundantly clear. It is heartfelt and earnest; genuine and real.

Life ItselfThere is no doubting the power added to Life Itself by witnessing an admirably self-effacing Ebert as he fights his health battle. What unintentionally emerges as a result of this footage is a great respect for Ebert the man in addition to any respect for his professional talents. To posit; is there a greater measure of a man than in how he confronts his own demise? With a lack of vanity, the only person who teeters on the glib or facetious about the situation is Ebert himself. Oh, what a charmer he was until the end.

You’d be right to wary of viewing the poster and seeing a welter of 4 and 5 star reviews for Life Itself. This, perhaps more than nearly any other, is a document playing to the choir. It is a self-reflexive vicarious validation of the form. It is the worship at the altar of one of their own. And yet, this is a documentary that transcends the industry it details.

Like all affecting pieces of art, it speaks of an extraordinary life dealing with ordinary concerns. The universality of the battles with the highs and the lows of life are the ties that bind us, and bind us they do in Life Itself.

This team-up of James and Ebert is visibly less tumultuous than that of Siskel and Ebert, but no less spellbinding. And whilst this work may have come as an unintended epitaph, it is one that underlines Ebert’s legacy without being a full stop. This is more of a comma and a continuation. His legacy has been enhanced. James has sculpted a gentle ode to a full life, showcasing the joie de vivre of a passionate spirit that continues to reverberate even after his sad, untimely passing.

[1] voted #17 in the best documentaries of all time in Sight and Sound’s 2014 poll

Life Itself is released onto DVD on 23rd February 2015.

Here is the trailer:

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

FILM, FILM and even more FILM! Toomuchnoiseblog is a place for film reviews and discussion. Latest film releases to the cinema and through to DVD and Blu Ray. From American cinema to Asian cinema to European cinema and everything in between. In a nutshell, toomuchnoiseblog is the place for film goers and cinema lovers.

RSS Film News, Reviews and Discussion

  • Kevin Spacey Fields Questions that Female Celebrities Get Asked On the Red Carpet 05/03/2014
    If we’ve learned anything from House of Cards, it’s that Kevin Spacey is skilled at being terrifying. He’s also skilled, we now know, at answering the types of questions female celebrities get asked on the Red Carpet. At the Oscars on Sunday, BuzzFeed threw a series of inquiries at the actor focusing entirely on his appearance and not at all on his work or h […]
    Samantha Grossman
  • Yum-Eh: Watch A Supercut of the Most Awkward Meals in Film History 08/12/2013
    Just in time for a holiday meal with your family, Slacktory has released a supercut of the most awkward meals in cinematic history, including uncomfortable dinner scenes from everything from Annie Hall to Step Brothers to Eraserhead. Is your family supper any more uncomfortable than the one from Lars and the Real Girl where Ryan Gosling’s character forces hi […]
    Melissa Locker
  • Yes, Nicolas Cage Really Did Just Win China’s ‘Best Global Actor’ Award 09/10/2013
    Correction appended, Oct. 10, 2013. It has been decided. China has named Nicolas Cage the Best Global Actor in Motion Pictures at the Huading Awards. And as far as anyone who has seen the actor’s YouTube reel entitled “Nicolas Cage Losing His S***” or is a member of the sub-Reddit group “One True God” is concerned, it’s about time. Cage did win an Oscar for  […]
    Laura Stampler
  • Movie Blogger Dials 911 Over Cell Phone Use in Theater 11/09/2013
    Film critic Alex Billington couldn’t bear sitting through a press screening at the Toronto International Film Festival while a nearby audience member blatantly emailed and texted throughout Ti West’s horror flick, The Sacrament. The cinematic faux paus irritated Billington so much that after complaining to theater managers proved unsuccessful, he called the […]
    Courtney Subramanian
  • NextDraft: Yahoo Buys Tumblr, Prompting 40 Million 20-Year-Olds to Ask: “Ya who?” 20/05/2013
    Let’s Get Ready to Tumbl Today, another large deal was made in a bid to make history in the Internet championship of the world. In this corner, we have Yahoo, an aging heavyweight with a new, compelling CEO looking to get some youthful power in her knockout punch by adding Tumblr, a young company run by a young high school dropout-turned programmer-turned CE […]
    Dave Pell
  • Reading While Eating for Mar. 25: Darlings of the Dance 25/03/2013
    Florida Gulf Coast University Takes NCAA Tournament By Storm. The 22-year-old Ft. Myers-based college became the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet Sixteen, taking out Georgetown and San Diego State University over the weekend. (Keeping Score) Is the Political Debate Over Same-Sex Marriage Over? It may well be, regardless of the two landmark cases that the […]
    Eric Dodds
  • Seven Things You May Have Missed at the Oscars 25/02/2013
    Toilet Humor: The Onion, America’s finest (fake) news source, is in hot water this morning for its vulgar tweet about Beasts of the Southern Wild‘s adorable star, Best Actress Nominee Quvenzhané Wallis. The offensive tweet has been deleted, but you can see a NSFW screenshot of it here. (The nine-year-old could very well have seen it too; she’s on Twitter at  […]
    Olivia B. Waxman
  • WATCH: 300 Movies in 7 Minutes: The Ultimate 2012 Supercut 18/12/2012
    Cinematically speaking, 2012 was a bit of a wild card year. For every moment of pure cinematic brilliance and originality (think films like The Master, Life of Pi and Beasts of the Southern Wild), vieweres also had to sit through such boring, bloated blockbuster fare as Battleship and Total Recall. Yet in the hands of video editor Gen Ip, a.k.a. Genrocks, th […]
    Melissa Locker
  • Reading While Eating for Oct. 9: Ruffled Feathers 09/10/2012
    In today's must-read links for your lunch break: The Big Bird saga ruffles more feathers.
    Tim Morrison
  • Friends of ‘Sam Bacile’: A Who’s Who of the Innocence of Muslims Film 13/09/2012
    UPDATED: Friday, Sept. 14, 2 p.m. An Internet clip of an amateurish, virulently anti-Muslim film called Innocence of Muslims is being identified as one of the flash points behind the anti-U.S. demonstrations in the Middle East that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi, Libya, earlier this week. As journalists work to unco […]
    Nick Carbone and Madison Gray
%d bloggers like this: