I lost count of the number of times I cried during this documentary about the life and death of film critic Roger Ebert. Surely it wouldn’t be as affecting for most people, since I consider Ebert a personal hero. As I detailed in a post just after his death, Roger Ebert is largely responsible for my love of movies and, by extension, my love of writing about movies and culture. He touched a lot of lives in this way, especially those of filmmakers whose films he championed. One such filmmaker was Steve James, one of the men responsible for Hoop Dreams. That documentary saw success because Siskel & Ebert campaigned far and wide for it. James directed Life Itself, basing it off of Ebert’s autobiography. Life was originally supposed to be about Ebert’s life, but Ebert began succumbing to the effects of all the surgeries he had undergone to remove cancer from his throat, and he died during the course of filming. James’s camera gives us an intimate look at Ebert’s last days and how those who loved him (including his wife, Chaz) handled it.
Even now, thinking back on the movie, I’m moved to tears. If you don’t know or care much about Ebert, Life Itself is still a stunning portrait of a man’s life and death. In that post I mentioned earlier, I wrote this line: “Essentially, everything I have ever written has been an attempt to start a conversation with Roger.” That’s still true today. I got the sense while watching the movie that the finished product of Life Itself was James’s attempt.