By Donathan Hundley (Aberdeen, NC)
When I first heard about the death of the great Roger Ebert, I, just like many others, was deeply saddened. I had lost what felt like a friend. I’ve always been a great admirer of his work; whether it was his writing, which inspired me to write about films myself, or his work with Gene Siskel and Richard Roeper on television; a show that I enjoyed very much.
Life Itself is directed by Steve James; a man whose own career may not be as successful without the critical praise he received from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert for his great documentary Hoop Dreams; a film about two inner-city kids looking to become basketball stars. This great documentary feels like a final way to say goodbye to Roger for all of us that admired him; a way to know him and understand who he was even better.
In this film, as is the case with most docs, we are told through interviews and commentary about this man’s life; from his childhood till his death. We also see what life was like for Roger and his wife Chaz in the miserable years that they battled with his cancer; their love is one of the more beautiful aspects of the film. Chaz is there with Roger through some of his best days, and she suffers with him as he is going through what were no doubt his very worst days.
The love story of Roger and Chaz is not the only love story we are told of in the film: We also learn a great deal about the relationship Roger shared with his longtime TV co-host Gene Siskel. Despite what you may have heard previously about Siskel & Ebert’s relationship, behind all of the arguing, we learn that they really loved one another. We’re told of how much Roger was affected by Gene’s death; and we’re told of how concerned Gene was when he thought that Roger may have been leaving the show.
Whenever I’m reading one of Roger’s reviews, I feel like I am reading someone who not only had a great understanding of movies; what they are and what they can accomplish, but someone who had a great understanding of life; what it is about and how it will inevitably turn out. Much of Roger’s life was about movies; and the final goodbye has been spoken to Roger with a truly great movie in Life Itself.