A major part of my movie education comes from DVD/Blu-ray commentaries. One of the best commentaries I’ve listened to didn’t come from the director or the screenwriter or the producer. One of the best commentaries I’ve ever listened to came from Roger Ebert and what he thought about Citizen Kane.
I’m not a movie critic. I don’t have the eduction for it. I have educated myself in philosophy, and enough science to give my philosophy the credentials it needs to be valid in my mind.
Roger Ebert’s profoundly gifted insight into Citizen Kane instantly gave me a new respect for film critics. I used to be of the school of, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” Ebert cured me of that.
I don’t know if he could make a movie. I know that, despite my desire to do so, I will never review a movie as well, and with as much breadth as Roger Ebert.
And that’s the introduction I had to Life Itself, a biopic on Roger Ebert. It starts perfectly, seeing Ebert the way I see him, as a legend, as a mythic figure. Interestingly, Ebert is portrayed in much the same way Orson Wells is portrayed, without the clashes and career-drowning choices.
Slowly, as Life Itself progresses, we move past the legend and begin to get pictures of the man, of the human, the kind of human who could write as well as Ebert did, with as much insight as he had. We get glimpses of how he came to be, but also of his ego, of his passion.
Ebert is the first person to champion one of Martin Scorsese’s first movies; that act may or may not have been the largest driving factor that gave Scorsese the career he now has. But, even Scorsese acknowledges that Ebert’s influence made a difference.
Life Itself shows Roger Ebert. It’s a memory of him, almost an ode, and we need it because Roger Ebert’s words warrant remembering. He’s said too much and said it too well to be forgotten.