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Arts & Entertainment

'Life Itself' documentary a fitting cinematic tribute to Roger Ebert




Beverly Hills, CA. Roger Ebert with his wife attending the 37th Ann. Publicists Guild Awds. Photo by Brenda Chase Online USA Inc.
Beverly Hills, CA. Roger Ebert with his wife attending the 37th Ann. Publicists Guild Awds. Photo by Brenda Chase Online USA Inc.
Brenda Chase

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The new documentary, "Life Itself," follows the life and death of legendary film critic, Roger Ebert.

Directed by Steve James, whose documentary, "Hoop Dreams," was championed by Ebert, the film gives us access to the final months of Ebert's life as he suffers and eventually succumbs to cancer.

Based on Ebert's own memoir by the same name, the film chronicles Ebert's early career, his winning of the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1975, and his ascension to film icon as co-host of a show with Gene Siskel which changed the way film and criticism are regarded in popular culture.

"To have these two guys talking about movies in a way where you could see they thought it was important to discuss the movies, you know they weren't just entertainment," said Ebert's wife, Chaz.

The two film critics also entertained viewers with witty and often heated repartee over the films they discussed. Director Steve James compared their dynamic to a championship heavyweight fight. But despite their early animosity, Siskel and Ebert developed a brotherly affection for each other in later years, which made it all the more difficult when Siskel died suddenly of brain cancer in 1999.

"It affected Roger deeply because Roger felt like Gene was his brother," said Chaz. "He didn’t have a chance to tell his brother goodbye and he was devastated by that. He said if anything like this ever happens to me we must not keep it from people who mean something to us."

Thus, when Ebert was diagnosed with cancer, he was very public about his health battle all the way to the end, as he invited director James to intimate moments in the hospital in what turned out to be the final months of his life.

"It was hard to watch and film those difficult moments," said James. "But I think he clearly understood that if this film was going to be a true and honest portrait of his life that we needed to show everything."

Chaz said she believes Ebert would give the final film "two thumbs up."

"I think it's so poetic that a man who spent his entire career writing about movies ended his career in a movie. There was a cosmic smile there," she said.