It wasn’t long ago, before the advent of Rottentomatoes, IMDB and the online democratization of film discourse, that a handful of print and television reviewers wielded considerable influence over the movie-going public. The best reviewers sought to do more than hurl zingers at the latest Hollywood release; they aimed to educate film fans about – and generate enthusiasm for – the art itself.
Perhaps best known – and most beloved – were Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, Chicago newspaper film critics who became television stars as Siskel & Ebert thanks not only to their user-friendly ‘thumbs-up-or-down’ ratings system but witty and passionate discussions – often turned arguments – about movies.
Both have passed on – Gene Siskel in 1999 and Roger Ebert in 2013. And while their voices live in countless books and articles, there is also Life Itself, Steve James’ documentary based on Ebert’s memoir of the same name.
Ebert’s wife has announced that Life Itself is available to stream for free through Friday, October 7. The documentary explores Ebert’s career in film criticism, his relationship with Siskel, his marriage to civil rights attorney Charlie “Chaz” Hammel-Smith and his final years battling cancer.
“Ebert brought the joy and wonder of the movies to every impassioned review he wrote. He was a complicated person; there have been many attempts to sum up his essence succinctly,” wrote Frances Dodd, senior editor at DuJour Magazine. “I have tried myself and failed. But if he was any one thing, I think that he was joyful. James’s documentary captures all of this in the starkest and yet loveliest light.”
You can also learn more by visiting RogerEbert.com.
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