When Roger Ebert was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002, the disease and the surgeries it would require hindered his ability to drink, eat and speak. However, the cancer would not prevent the Pulitzer Prize-distinguished film critic from having a voice through his written words.
Through an online blog, Ebert continues to provide film reviews and resources for viewers internationally. To make his silent voice heard by more, the writer released a memoir in September 2011 titled “Life Itself.”
The account details many chapters of Ebert’s life from childhood memories in Urbana, Ill., to discussing “Midnight in Paris” with Woody Allen at the most recent Cannes Film Festival. Through this book, Ebert makes it apparent that his life has been a long journey of adventures, every one of which he has appreciated.
“You can’t say it wasn’t interesting. My lifetime’s memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris,” Ebert said in “Life Itself.”
The book not only documents all the opportunities Ebert has been granted over the course of his life, but the people who made them possible. Many of the chapters are centered around a specific person who influenced him over the course of his life: his parents, editors, film directors and his wife, Chaz Hammelsmith.
Although he speaks in high regard of every individual and respects every person for what they brought to this world, it was clear at the beginning of the chapter dedicated to Chaz how passionate his love is for her.
“How can I begin to tell you about Chaz”? he said. “She fills my horizon, she is the great fact of my life, she is the love of my life, she saved me from the fate of living out my life alone, which is where I seemed to be heading.”
His chapters about his mother and father were especially compelling, but the documentation of one other person’s relationship with Ebert was quite interesting: Gene Siskel, the film critic for the Sun-Times’ newspaper rival, The Chicago Tribune.
The pair had such a competitive relationship that when “alone together in a elevator, we would study the numbers changing above the door.”
The two opinionated critics eventually teamed together for television programs, where they had a natural talent together. Toward the end of the Gene Siskel chapter, Ebert has convinced the reader of the special quality of the relationship between these two writers.
“… The problem was that no one one else could possibly understand how meaningless was the hate, and how deep was the love,” Ebert wrote.
With Ebert as the writer, the book was without a doubt well-written. However, at the conclusion of the book, readers may find themselves more curious about his feelings for film. After all, he is one of the most renowned film critics the entertainment industry has ever seen.
While some film watchers follow him religiously, some viewers despise the critic. What are his feelings towards the dispute? How does he form general opinions about film? These are just a few questions readers may be wondering at the beginning of the book, that are not fully answered by the end.
In a chapter dedicated to the start of his career as film critic for the Sun-Times, Ebert does make a brief comment on film.
“What kinds of movies do I like the best? If I had to make a generalization, I would say that many of my favorite movies are about good people. It doesn’t matter if the ending is happy or sad. It doesn’t matter if the characters won or lost. The only true ending is death,” Ebert said the memoir.
There is the possibility Ebert is attempting to make a statement with this book. Media consumers typically see him as the man with film opinions, the one that can tell us where and when filmgoers should spend their money on film.
With “Life Itself,” maybe Ebert is trying to explain he is more human than readers perceive. He is a man with crazy quirks, like the need to visit the same destinations during each trip to London, or his obsession with Steak ‘n Shake. He is also a man with expectations that people should offer nothing less than joy to the world.
“I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is the best we can do,” he said.
“Life Itself” allows readers to hear a different voice of Roger Ebert. It is not the voice of Roger Ebert the film critic, but Roger Ebert the person.
4 stars out of 5