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Ebert's hard life makes for touching film



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July 15, 2014 | 02:04 PM
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

While most kids my age aren’t exactly sure what they want to be, I’ve known for the past few years.

My love for film was sparked when I watched “The Shawshank Redemption” for the first time. At that point, I knew that movies would be a passion of mine in life.

About three years ago I came to the conclusion that this love for film could perhaps turn into a career. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew it had to be movie-related.

It was two years ago when I decided exactly what I wanted to do. When somebody decides on a profession, they must then look into others that have succeeded in the profession of their choice.

If you choose to be a film director, look into the work of Stanley Kubrick or Alfred Hitchcock. If you choose to be an actor, look into the work of Marlon Brando or Robert De Niro.

I decided that I wanted to be a film critic, and Roger Ebert was perhaps my greatest inspiration.

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“Life Itself” is a great documentary recounting the life of renowned film critic Roger Ebert. The film details his early days as an alcoholic and Pulitzer Prize winner, his contentious partnership with Gene Siskel, his marriage, and his battle with cancer.

This documentary, directed by Steve James, is a raw look at a flawed man’s life. James doesn’t make Ebert out to be the hero that I’ve always seen him as.

Toward the beginning of the film we learn of Ebert’s alcoholism that plagued his early days as a journalist. This problem even brought about depression.

At this point in the film you begin to realize that this will not be a happy look at a man’s life, but instead an honest look at a man’s life.

I didn’t expect that “Life Itself” would also contain some of the hardest moments to watch in film all year. This is because I didn’t know going in that there was footage of Ebert in the hospital weeks before his death.

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In these portions of the film Ebert always has a smile on his face. He has a positive outlook on seemingly everything despite the pain he’s in.

We watch the suction process, physical therapy, and more suction. All of it is painful to the audience.

My favorite portion of the film, and one I wish they had explored even more, is Ebert’s complicated relationship with Gene Siskel.

We see footage of the two trying to introduce the movie’s they will be reviewing on their show, “Siskel & Ebert & The Movies.”

It takes them at least five takes. Throughout these takes, they’re hurling passive aggressive remarks at one another.

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At the end of the day they were quite close, and Siskel’s death truly affected Ebert.

I’d be willing to watch a feature documentary about the relationship between Siskel and Ebert. It makes for the finest moments in this film.

I still remember when I found out about Ebert’s death on April 4, 2013. Never had the death of somebody that I didn’t know personally affect me so much.

It was hard to think that I’d never read a review from him ever again. This documentary captures that feeling again.

The interview with Ebert’s wife, Chaz, is astonishingly heartbreaking. It nearly drove me to tears when she described the final moments of Roger’s life, the death of a great and wise man that deserves the utmost respect.

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“Life Itself” is about more than just Ebert’s career. As the title implies, it’s about life itself. It’s about a great man who lived a wonderful life. It’s about happiness and love.

Nobody can say this better than the man himself, so I leave you with the words of Roger Ebert.

“I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try.”

Lorenz is a 16-year-old junior at Badger High School and an aspiring film critic.

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