When famed film critic Roger Ebert died last year he was four months into participation on the documentary film Life Itself. Based on his memoirs, the film sees a limited UK release this week.
The scope of Ebert’s celebrated career is covered in depth, from his time as a young journalist in Chicago, towards and beyond his iconic combative partnership with the late Gene Siskel.
Documentaries run the risk of becoming fluff pieces where its subject is eulogised. Life Itself offers an impartial view of Ebert the man, balancing his failings (his alcoholism and tendency towards petulant and arrogant behaviour) with his successes. His later life was plagued with cancer that robbed him of speech and his lower jaw. Seeing Ebert bedridden and wheelchair bound, undergoing painful physiotherapy was uncomfortable. That level of intimacy feels like an intrusion. Life Itself shys away from nothing. It depicts Ebert as he was; a complete and honest portrayal, the mark of an absorbing documentary.
Life Itself is a remarkable picture. It has an authentic love for film and celebrates the medium much like Roger Ebert himself did. But it encompasses much more, reflecting on mortality, time and life itself.