“Life Itself” is a documentary about Roger Ebert based on his memoirs produced by Martin Scorsese and directed by Steven James that opens in San Francisco on July 4. The documentary chronicles Ebert’s meteoric rise as a film critic at a time when no one was doing the kind of criticism he did for the public. He was smart, he was a good writer, and he was at the right time at the right place. He was one of the first non French speaking film critics to attend the Cannes Film Festival beginning in 1980 and he went there every year after that.
In effect Ebert popularized film for audiences without studying film language. His reviews were his personal take on a film, the world according to Roger Ebert and his writing was stellar in this regard. Occasionally he would write about film style - editing, camera angles, sound and the composition of the frame, but his big thing was the themes of the films, the characters of the film. There are exceptions. He hated Vincent Gallo’s "The Brown Bunny" screened at Cannes in 2003, but was big enough to write that when it was later edited, Gallo made a better film. He was also an ardent supporter of civil rights and incorporated other political and social issues into his reviews. In the documentary we also learn that Ebert paid for sex in a particular bar he frequented.
Film criticism is a field where few women become legends like Ebert, Pauline Kael being probably the only one. “Life Itself” features interview after interview of his colleagues and you can't help notice they are all men. The end of his life is documented and his relationship with his wife Chaz who appears on screen. This is a slick documentary if you want to find out more about Robert Ebert by the men who knew him well in his profession.