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'Life Itself' is a fascinating film

Life Itself


If you are a film buff who grew up from the late 1970s through the late 1990s, you probably watched "Siskel and Ebert" as a kid. Originally the hosts of a small-scale PBS program in the Chicago market, the chemistry between them proved to be so enlightening, their show was eventually syndicated, and the critics became celebrities. The evolution of their relationship, as well as many more matters relevant to the more prolific of the team, Roger Ebert, is on marvelous display in the newly released "Life Itself," based on his autobiography.

From his childhood creation of a neighborhood newsletter through his tenure as editor-in-chief of his college newspaper through his management of his internet blog, "Life Itself" covers all of the major professional and personal milestones of Ebert's life. It begins in late 2012 with the critic in a hospital room, receiving treatment for cancer. He and the crew acknowledge that a documentary is being made, and that it will cover the ups and downs of his past and present. It clearly establishes that he was born to be a writer. His career as a film writer began in 1967. Around this time, he wrote a screenplay, "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." On the personal side, Ebert's early carelessness with alcohol is documented, as is his friendships and rivalries with other journalists and critics. The fascinating story of his celebrated partnership with Gene Siskel is also highlighted. Another part of his life the film features is his relationship with his wife, Chaz.

"Life Itself" is a well-done documentary. It shows Roger's strengths and weaknesses and provides many insights into the times and places where he lived.

The backbone of the film is the multiple interviews, both with Roger himself and his friends and family members. Commenting frequently on his personal life is Chaz. She explains what Roger went through with cancer and how that was hard for both of them. Commenting on his professional profile is director Martin Scorsese, a friend of his. He explains how the critic was very supportive of him throughout his career. These are just two of many people featured whose perspectives buttress the remarkable film.

"Life Itself" is a must-see for fans of Roger Ebert and, indeed fans of film.