The Life and Death of Roger Ebert

I recently watched Life Itself, the documentary about the Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic and social commentator Roger Ebert (1942 – 2013). It has a rotten tomatoes score of 100% among top critics. The documentary is based on his best-selling book, Life Itself: A Memoir. (I have read large portions of it.)

I give my thumbs up to the documentary, with a cautionary note that seeing Mr. Ebert’s physical condition at the end of his life can be difficult. As for his memoir, it is wonderfully well-written as Ebert was a great prose stylist. Here are its opening sentences:

I lived at the center of the universe. The center was located at the corner of Washington and Maple streets in Urbana, Illinois, a two bedroom white stucco house with green awnings, evergreens and geraniums in the front, and a white picket fence enclosing the backyard.

Isn’t that the way it is for all of us? We are all born at the center of our universe, and nothing for the rest of our lives makes quite such an impression as our childhood.

I first became familiar with Ebert in the 1970s while watching “Sneak Previews,” his show with Gene Siskel. I really enjoyed listening to two knowledgeable movie critics discuss films. At the time my own tastes in movies were slightly more aligned with Siskel’s, perhaps because he was a philosophy major. But if they both recommended a movie—gave it two thumbs up—I felt confident the movie was worth my time. For many years I only bought videos if they had the two thumbs up endorsement. Siskel and Ebert saved me a lot of time that might have been spent watching bad movies.

I also enjoyed reading Ebert’s blog which became his passion after he lost his voice. His last blog entry, “A Leave of Presence” was published just two days before he died. It is a beautiful and moving entry. In my next post, I will discuss Ebert’s last words about life and death. In the meantime, I highly recommend the documentary.

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