”It would be a major lapse to have a documentary that doesn’t contain the full reality. I wouldn’t want to be associated. This is not only your film”, legendary film critic Roger Ebert e-mails to Steve James during his making of the film that carries the title of Ebert’s memoirs and is shot during the last months of his life.
Indeed, the film contains the full reality – in an interview at Indiewire, James says: ” With that first shot you see of him in the present part of the story – I purposedly wanted to use a shot where he’s asleep and you can see through his jaw, through the bandage, and it’s kind of a sobering shot”. It is quite shocking to watch before you get Ebert’s incredible appetite on Life, his work on the MacBook with a voice synthesizer, his conversations with his wife Chaz, his efforts to rehabilitate, on the background of the many operations he has gone through due to his cancer.
James has made a very rich film. It includes the biography of Ebert, his way into film criticism, his loyalty to his newspaper Chicago Sun-Times after he received many attractive offers when receiving the Pulitzer Prize – with quotes from his book as the narrative backbone and with many interviews with close friends and with filmmakers, who adores him like Scorcese, Morris and Werner Herzog, who with his special accent calls him ”a soldier of Cinema”!
What I enjoyed mostly, however, was the story of the love/hate relationship between the two critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel (PHOTO), who ran a tv show together, firstly ”Sneak Preview” and later ”At the Movies”. The clips from the show and the rehearsals are hilarious, Siskel being the one who was part of the jet-set around Hugh Hefner, far away from the social environment of Ebert. The clips show often an Ebert getting more and more irritated over Siskel’s approach and judgements. Wonderful sequences from a tv show that in the beginning was only for Chicago but became a huge success in all USA. Ebert was called a mainstream reviewer (contrary to the intellectual Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris) but the truth is that if anyone he brought non-Hollywood independent films, including documentaries, to the attention of the audience – pleases me, as an example, to see his enthusiasm of the 7Up-series after he had watched the 56Up part at the hospital, if I got it right.
I saw the film on Netflix with Danish subtitles, you can find dvd’s and blueray’s – and IMPORTANT you can read reviews by Ebert (from 1967!) on the website that carries his name, link below.
USA, 2014, 2 hours