Life Itself is a 2014 documentary chronicling the life of Roger Ebert
, and based upon his memoir of the same title. It was directed by Steve James (whose earlier film Hoop Dreams
was famously championed by Ebert on his TV show) and produced by Martin Scorsese
and Steve Zaillian.
The movie chronicles Ebert's story from his early life in Champaign-Urbana to his career as a critic, first at the Chicago Sun-Times and later on TV as half of the famous team Siskel & Ebert
all the way through his death (which occurred during filming). It looks at the impact he had on film criticism as well as the industry as a whole, and includes many interviews with people who worked with him and whose careers were impacted by his reviews.
Tropes appearing in this film:
- Author Appeal: Aside from his respectable work as a film critic, we see some of Roger's work as a screenwriter for the infamously raunchy film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Asked in an interview why a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic would choose to work with a sexplotation director like Russ Meyer, one of Ebert's friends considers for a moment and replies, "Boobs."
- Author Existence Failure: Sadly, Roger died while the documentary was still being filmed.
- Award Snub: The film's failure to receive a Best Documentary nomination at the Oscars was very unexpected, and quite ironic when you remember how hard Ebert pushed for Oscar recognition for Steve James' Hoop Dreams.
- Body Horror: Averted purposefully. Roger insisted that his non-functioning lower jaw be shown matter-of-factly to make the point that illness is a fact of life, nothing to be ashamed or frightened about.
- Catch Phrase/Famous Last Words: "See you at the movies." Also his sign-off words for his last essay.
- Doing It for the Art: Director Steve James shows several of Roger's emails admonishing him not to soft-pedal the reality of the cancer treatments and his physical struggles with illness, as he believed that would compromise the truth and integrity of the documentary.
- Face Death with Dignity: The film looks unflinchingly at Roger's declining last days and his struggles with physical therapy, but shows how he accepted his death as a natural part of life.
- Functional Alcoholic: Roger himself, it's revealed, until he joined a twelve-step program. He reminisces somewhat fondly on his hard-drinking reporter lifestyle, but realized he was drinking himself into an early grave.
- Go Out with a Smile: His wife Chaz describes his passing as very quiet and simple, with him just looking at her and the kids and smiling.
- Heads or Tails: Often used by Roger and Gene to resolve disputes— notably, that's the reason their show was called Siskel & Ebert rather than the other way around.
- Happily Married: Roger and Chaz very obviously dote on each other.
- Hilarious Outtakes: Some rare behind-the-scenes clips from Siskel & Ebert illustrate their contentious but affectionate relationship.
- Like an Old Married Couple: With Gene Siskel.
- Scenery Porn: There are some absolutely gorgeous atmospheric shots of The Windy City.
- The Speechless: The film was shot after Roger had lost his ability to speak due to thyroid cancer. His lines are provided by a computerized speech generator, and excerpts from the autobiography are read by an actor.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Gene Siskel again, as shown on and off screen of their eponymous show.
- The Windy City: Most of the film takes place in Chicago, where Ebert spent his entire career as a newspaperman.