Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Two Thumbs and One Thousand Tears

I can't review this movie. It feels like a disaster to say that in the face of Roger Ebert and the democratization of film criticism (I wouldn't be writing this right now without him, full stop) that he stood for, but just as Gene Siskel called Roger "my asshole," this is my disaster. I didn't do it for you, Roger! Listen, I literally started crying fifteen seconds into Life, Itself. The first shot is of people taking pictures of the marquee at The Chicago Theater announcing the public memorial for Roger, and I made it oh about halfway through the words "With Love From Chaz" when the first tears came. What sort of distance am I supposed to find to be critical of this? 

There's a scene here - a very funny scene in a movie filled with very funny scenes that I nonetheless sobbed through - where Ebert's personal relationships with the filmmakers he was reviewing is discussed, about how he was able to keep the line between those personal and professional places so he could still be critical of these folks' movies (the cuts between Martin Scorsese and Ebert's pan of The Color of Money are golden), and that's all well and nice for him but clearly I'm made of weaker stock. I was a puddle. 

If Ebert meant something to you you're going to see this movie anyway, you don't need me to tell you to. It does what it sets out to do, and there are all kinds of amazing behind-the-scenes tidbits to delight. The cutting-room-floor footage of Roger and Gene going at it are spectacular things. And the movie feels honest to Ebert's legacy, which was all about honesty. I didn't know this man but I miss him almost every single day- when I type the letter "r" into my browser's search bar it's his name I see first. That feels right, appropriate - he's in there haunting the keyboard upon which I write every single word. It couldn't be more true. ETA Here are a pair of pictures I took from the Q&A following the screening of the film at the Museum of the Moving Image last night, which involved Roger's wife Chaz, film critic Scott Foundas, and the filmmaker Ramin Bahrani who was championed from the start by Ebert for Man Push Cart.


will h said...

I bawled, though I did wonder what Roper did to piss off Steve James.

Jason Adams said...

Somebody asked Chaz about that at the Q&A last night - she said that Steve James didn't even talk to Roeper because of the way he was planning on structuring the film, once Ebert fell extremely ill during filming, changed and it didn't fit. He wanted to go right from Gene's death and the way Siskel covered up his illness to the way that Ebert decided that was the exact opposite of what he was going to do, and how open he became about everything. She seemed very sincere about that, I don't think she was hiding anything.