Roger Ebert has reviewed many films and now he will be the subject of a new movie. The first critic to ever win a Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism gets his due in Steve James’ documentary Life Itself, based on Ebert’s auto-biography, which will open on Independence Day.
The film covers his early life and what made him into a cinema lover and then into the most beloved and influential movie critic ever. The movie shows bits of filmed interviews with Ebert, as well as many excerpts from his long TV collaboration with fellow Chicago critic Gene Siskel.
The film deviates from the book in the larger amount of time it focuses on Ebert’s cancer struggles and the operation that removed his jaw, leaving him voiceless. Some of the visuals in the film are rather graphic and intense. These sad images are counter-balanced with Ebert’s enthusiastic love of movies. In the film, Ebert says, “For me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people that are sharing this journey with us.”
Ebert sadly died during the making of Life Itself and never got to see the finished project. The rest of us can see it in July and celebrate the life of a man who was the definitive critical voice of the cinema for 50 years.