Life Itself (2014) – Steve James



Releasing today from Magnolia Home Entertainment is this fantastic documentary about Roger Ebert, renowned film lover and critic. Put together by director Steve James, and using Ebert’s own memoirs and interviews, the film takes us into a life that will be tied with film and the love of cinema forever.

I could sit here and write and rave about this film, and it is a beautiful film to watch, in turns humorous, revelatory and heartbreaking. But as I watched it, I was put in mind of my first introduction to Roger Ebert…

I was a kid growing up in Kingston (at the time) and it must have been early ’82. I loved Star Wars, had been introduced to the awesomeness that was Raiders of the Lost Ark, and was a voracious reader of Starlog magazine. What I didn’t know, despite the fact that there was a magazine like Starlog, was that there were people out there who loved movies as much as I was beginning to. My house wasn’t a strict house, but we didn’t get a VCR until 1984, and in the early 80s had only rented a laserdisc player on special occasions (few and far between as they were) and one of my selections, much to my dad’s chagrin as he never understood my love of repeated film viewing, was Star Wars.

So there I was one afternoon on a weekend, flicking through channels on a tiny black and white television in the spare room, and there, sitting in a movie theater was a rather large man, and a thin cadaverous fellow arguing about films. What was this? Here were two people, passionately debating the merits of a movie. I was dumbstruck. To this point in my young life, there had been no one I had met that had my growing interest for film. I was fascinated by the hows and whys behind the camera as much as I was with the story in front of it. And here these two were talking about actors, writers and directors.


There were more people like me.

It was through this show, Siskel and Ebert, that I began to cultivate and grow my interest in films and movies, learning about all manner of films, many I wouldn’t see until years later. I was amazed that there were people out there who were as intrigued and passionate about those flickering images on the screen as I was beginning to be.

So as I watched Life Itself this week, I did so almost reverentially. Here was someone who, to me, was larger than life, had followed his passions and made them his life. Here I am, some decades on in my own life, finally trying to sort out exactly what to do with my own life, while continuing to embrace my love for film and pop culture.

The film chronicles his life, his passions, his loves, addictions, and finally, his horrible battle with cancer.  Through it all the two things he loved, his wife Chaz, and films, continued to bring him joy. What this film has done for me, through the careful interviewing, directing and imagery of Steve James, and through the soul of Roger Ebert, has reawakened my love for watching and reviewing film, making me want to rededicate myself to the site, as I continue to explore classic, not-so-classic and new films, one where I still am struggling to find my own critical voice, but will simply continue to write and share my passion for film. My cinematic voice is in there, and I’m determined now to find it.

Life Itself is available today.

Roger Ebert & Gene Siskel



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