March 5, 2021

Roger Ebert’s Memoir: Life Itself

I had been a frequent reader of Roger Ebert’s newspaper film reviews and excerpts from his movie books before his death in 2013, but in his memoir “Life Itself,” he found a literary voice that went toe to toe with any of the great American writers.

Movie buffs will enjoy his sections on Robert Altman, Woody Allen, John Wayne and other film personalities, but his personal reminiscences about growing up in southern Illinois and his initial years in the newspaper business delight his reader with this deeper writing voice. Especially moving are his chapters on Studs Terkel who came up with the book title, his late-in-life marriage to African-American lawyer Chaz and his battle against metatastic cancer.  Surgery left him unable to speak, but being voiceless seemed to send his writing into introspective and emotionally rich terrain. I highly recommend this book even if you never watched “At the Movies” with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.

“Life Itself” is also the title of a 2014 documentary based on the Ebert book. In a karmic circle, the director was none other than Steve James who benefitted from Siskel and Ebert’s support of his 1994 documentary feature “Hoop Dreams.” The DVD is available by mail from Netflix.

The Roger Ebert web site is chock-full of interesting information about movies, Roger and Chaz Ebert plus  articles by contributors who are still covering the film industry. Roger would be proud.


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