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Life Itself

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Roger Ebert is the best-known film critic of our time. He has been reviewing films for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967, and was the first film critic ever to win a Pulitzer Prize. He has appeared on television for four decades, including twenty-three years as cohost of Siskel & Ebert at the Movies.

In 2006, complications from thyroid cancer treatment resulted in the loss of his ability to eat, drink, or speak. But with the loss of his voice, Ebert has only become a more prolific and influential writer. And now, for the first time, he tells the full, dramatic story of his life and career.

Roger Ebert's journalism carried him on a path far from his nearly idyllic childhood in Urbana, Illinois. It is a journey that began as a reporter for his local daily, and took him to Chicago, where he was unexpectedly given the job of film critic for the Sun-Times, launching a lifetime's adventures.

In this candid, personal history, Ebert chronicles it all: his loves, losses, and obsessions; his struggle and recovery from alcoholism; his marriage; his politics; and his spiritual beliefs. He writes about his years at the Sun-Times, his colorful newspaper friends, and his life-changing collaboration with Gene Siskel. He remembers his friendships with Studs Terkel, Mike Royko, Oprah Winfrey, and Russ Meyer (for whom he wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and an ill-fated Sex Pistols movie). He shares his insights into movie stars and directors like John Wayne, Werner Herzog, and Martin Scorsese.

This is a story that only Roger Ebert could tell. Filled with the same deep insight, dry wit, and sharp observations that his readers have long cherished, this is more than a memoir-it is a singular, warm-hearted, inspiring look at life itself.

"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. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out."

436 pages, Hardcover

First published September 13, 2011

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About the author

Roger Ebert

97 books367 followers
Roger Joseph Ebert was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American film critic and screenwriter.

He was known for his weekly review column (appearing in the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967, and later online) and for the television program Siskel & Ebert at the Movies, which he co-hosted for 23 years with Gene Siskel. After Siskel's death in 1999, he auditioned several potential replacements, ultimately choosing Richard Roeper to fill the open chair. The program was retitled Ebert & Roeper and the Movies in 2000.

Ebert's movie reviews were syndicated to more than 200 newspapers in the United States and abroad. He wrote more than 15 books, including his annual movie yearbook. In 1975, Ebert became the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. His television programs have also been widely syndicated, and have been nominated for Emmy awards. In February 1995, a section of Chicago's Erie Street near the CBS Studios was given the honorary name Siskel & Ebert Way. Ebert was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in June 2005, the first professional film critic to receive one. Roger Ebert was named as the most influential pundit in America by Forbes Magazine, beating the likes of Bill Maher, Lou Dobbs, and Bill O'Reilly.[2] He has honorary degrees from the University of Colorado, the American Film Institute, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

From 1994 until his death in 2013, he wrote a Great Movies series of individual reviews of what he deemed to be the most important films of all time. He also hosted the annual Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival in Champaign, Illinois from 1999 until his death.

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Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books249k followers
February 7, 2020
”Today, students rent videos, stream them online, or watch them on TV, and even if they watch a great movie, they do it alone or with a few friends. There is no sense of audience, and yet an important factor in learning to be literate about movies is to be part of an audience that is sophisticated about them.”

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I remember watching Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert argue about movies, life, and just about any subject they chose to bring up. I’d never seen anything like it before. They were awkward, not natural TV personalities, but when the sparks started flying it was as if they’d forgotten the cameras were even on. I rarely agreed with them about movies. Even when one liked a movie I’d liked, he didn’t like it for the same reasons that I did. It was really the first time I realized the range of different experiences people have watching a movie, reading a book, listening to music, or gazing at a painting.

There is more than one right answer.

Unless you are Gene Siskel or Roger Ebert.

They were convinced the other was absolutely wrong even when they agreed with each other. In fact, they were convinced that everyone else was wrong too if they didn’t agree with them. I was impressed and appalled with their mutual level of arrogance.

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A contrast in reactions to a movie moment.

I think what I was most surprised about was how much Ebert read. He read voraciously. He was a huge fan of Thomas Wolfe, the guy that the legendary Maxwell Perkins turned into a literary star, not to be confused with Tom Wolfe of The Bonfire of the Vanities fame. Ebert made me want to run down the stairs to my library and grab a Thomas Wolfe off the shelf and start inhaling again the words of that Southern insane magician. At one point he read a Shakespeare play every Sunday. ”It was then that Shakespeare took hold of me, and it became clear he was the nearest we have come to a voice for what it means to be human.”

Ebert never intended to be a movie critic. He just fell into it when the position came available at the newspaper he worked for. He had always wanted and expected to be a novelist, but fate as it does for most of us, had different ideas. It didn’t take long for him to realize that it was a pretty sweet gig to get paid to watch movies. The flip side of that is that he had to watch a lot of movies he didn’t care to watch. It is exactly like an editor at a publishing house having to read mind numbing manuscripts that slowly corrode their ability to enjoy reading. I had a man tell me one time that he was passionate about golf so he bought a golf course. He had to sell the golf course because every time he golfed, all he could think about was the divots in the course and the condition of the greens. He couldn’t enjoy golf anymore.

When Roger Ebert got sick with terminal cancer, one of the things he decided was that he was only going to see movies he wanted to see.

I didn’t know that Ebert wrote the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in conjunction with the famed or infamous director Russ Meyer. They hung out together and enjoyed each other’s company. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this doughy, geeky kid from Illinois hanging around Russ Meyer. Meyer made such “national treasures” as Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill and Vixen. He liked his women...well...I’ll let Roger tell you. ”Russ saw women’s breasts as part of her musculature. They were bra busters, man grabbers, awesome configurations, the Guns of Navarone. His mind contained an endless thesaurus of synonyms, none of them referring to gentle, comforting qualities. HIs ideal women were cantilevered, top-heavy, awesomely endowed. These qualities were described without the least suggestion of lust or desire, but rather with apprehension.”

Meyer cast these powerful, Amazonian women in his movies. He surrounded himself with his own fear that he would meet a woman “who was too much for one man”.

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Tura Satana in Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Dominating men.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Quentin Tarantino was influenced by Meyer and even acknowledged Meyer’s influence in his film Death Proof.

Ebert married the love of his life Chaz Hammelsmith in 1992 at age 50, rather late in life to be getting married for the first time, but sometime people have to be patient until they find the person that completes them. Interesting enough, Chaz seems to be a well endowed woman. I would say that she was a hangover left over from the Russ Meyer days, but the way Ebert talks about her the infatuation goes much deeper than her bra size.

He talks about travel to Europe in such a lyrical way that he made me want to grab a plane to London or Venice immediately. He loved Europe in the same way that I love Europe. I know there are other wonderful places to travel to, but whenever I free up time and money to go somewhere, invariably I pick somewhere in Europe. He talks about movies and meeting actors, but not as much as I expected. The focus of this book seemed to be to reveal the person he was outside of the movies.

He told stories about Hunter S. Thompson typing The Great Gatsby into his typewriter to get over writer’s block, which seems like an act of desperation, but after rolling that around my brain for a few days, I finally decided it was frilling brilliant. Or how about the fact that Woody Allen wrote all his movies on the same manual typewriter his parents bought him when he left home. It gave Woody the shudders to think about changing to an electric typewriter. When you hang around an industry and you love that industry, you collect these great stories that you tell to people over and over again, making those around you feel that for a moment the curtain has been pulled back revealing some of the magic and oddity that are part and parcel of creativity.

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Still giving the thumbs up.

I made an unbelievable amount of notes while reading this book. I could have notated even more. When Roger was writing this book, he knew his time was short. He acknowledges that he was an arrogant asshole most of his life. He did win a Pulitzer, and he never grew tired of reminding people, especially Siskel, that he had won it. He was insecure about his weight, and I believe overcompensated by feeling he needed to always be the smartest man in the room. He put the work in. He walked the walk. His intellect was not built on chimeras and bluff. He read, and he read, and he read some more. He explored, and he explored some more. He drank, and he drank some more and then abruptly quit in 1979 when he was on the cusp of self-destruction. His life was shorter than he expected. He died in 2013 at the age of 70. Cancer took him apart a piece at a time, but he fought it until it took his last breath because there was always another movie he wanted to see or another book he wanted to read or another place he wanted to visit.

Life itself.

There is a documentary based on this book available on Netflix. Like the book, it is SO honest, so revealing. The movie added to the level of poignancy that I felt after reading the book. Life is just damn tough, and don’t let anyone ever convince you it is fair.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,487 reviews843 followers
April 30, 2020
“Two Thumbs Up!

My thumbs up is for his body of work, not this particular book. It comes from Roger Ebert’s legacy to the world of criticism and writing. When he partnered with Gene Siskel on television to discuss and argue about films, each would give a film the thumbs-up or thumbs-down. If a film got both thumbs up, it made the news, magazines, movie posters, and covers of DVDs and videos (remember them?) like this one. It was advertising gold.

“Pulp Fiction” cover

I can’t really review or rate the book, because Roger was a friend of mine all through high school, where we talked about books, not films. He was wrapped up in Thomas Wolfe (the ‘real’ Thomas Wolfe, not The Bonfire of the Vanities one), and even convinced me to read You Can't Go Home Again. I admit it was a slog, but I did it.

He was a Catholic schoolboy before high school, so our paths didn’t cross then. When he got to Urbana High, he was different from a lot of kids, in that he was outspoken in class, argued (he’d have said ‘debated’) with teachers, and often made a nuisance of himself. He was (and remained forever) what Australians called “a stirrer” – someone who stirs people up and gets them arguing two sides of a question: creation vs evolution. That kind of thing.

Later, he took one of my father’s courses at university (they each told me they wondered what the other was like), and my dad said Roger was the same there – good at stirring up controversy and fun in class. They seemed to get along. He was a slim guy when I knew him, so it was startling to see this chubby fellow on television in later years.

So back to when he started high school. He was different from a lot of the other boys (which I appreciated), and after four years, our classmates had matured a bit and caught up with his sense of humour and intellect. He became more popular and was class president in our last year. He was already a sportswriter for the local newspapers and editor of our school one, for which I was the feature editor, so we spent plenty of time together. His classmates were mine, and his reminiscences are similar to mine.

I do think it’s funny that we never spoke about movies! I, too, used to go to the Princess Theatre and spend a few cents on all-day-suckers while watching the current double feature and the cartoon and this week’s serial (usually a cowboy story). Perhaps it didn’t seem “intellectual” enough as a topic. Who knows? I was as surprised as anyone when he moved to film criticism.

Mind you, my dad, who was a 'literary' man, used to go to a couple of movies a week and said he never felt he’d truly visited a town unless he’d been to the movies there. Roger was the same – films are to be enjoyed with an audience. It also explains one reason for his love of film festivals.

“. . . an important factor in learning to be literate about movies is to be part of an audience that is sophisticated about them. On the other hand, today every medium-size city has a film festival, where if you are lucky you will see a wonderful film you have never heard of before.”

He admits he always thought he’d write a novel (The Great American Novel?), but when he was tapped on the shoulder to take over the film critic’s role at the ‘Chicago Sun-Times’, that sent him down a completely different path. Well, not completely, because he was still writing about stories and storytelling, and he did it so well that in 1975 he won the Pulitzer Prize for Film Criticism.

Roger left an extraordinary legacy of five-star articles and pieces and reviews. I liked the way he used the first person. When he began his blog in 2008 he explains why.

“Most people choose to write a blog. I needed to. I didn’t intend for it to drift into autobiography, but in blogging there is a tidal drift that pushes you that way. Getting such quick feedback may be one reason; the Internet encourages first-person writing, and I’ve always written that way. How can a movie review be written in the third person, as if it were an account of facts? If it isn’t subjective, there’s something false about it.”

I also liked that he used ordinary language, not the fancy, two-dollar words our high school rhetoric teacher made us find in print and learn. (I remember ‘clandestine’ – he remembers ‘scrofulous’ and ‘immanent’). As a result, his writing was accessible to everyone and his blog was unbelievably popular, as Time Magazine noted here.

In his last few years, his medical condition was such that he couldn't speak, eat or drink. But - he could still write! In this book he discusses memory, rituals, traditions, alcoholism and celebrities. But it’s not a gossip piece, it’s a memoir, an uneven collection of some of his best work with reminiscences from his earliest childhood until shortly before he died. Alcohol, illness, treatments and medication each took their toll, and I’m afraid it shows in the later entries.

I can confirm some of his memories, but I would dispute others. Typical Roger – still stirring up controversy!

His last journal entry was the day before he died. “A Leave of Presence”.

You can scroll back through the years for blog entries and comments (in the thousands) from other critics, fans, and the general public. He seems to have responded to everybody. His wife Chaz now manages the journal and the business. I still enjoy ‘his’ reviews from rogerebert.com, but I particularly like finding an old film and checking his own review.
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
499 reviews857 followers
August 14, 2016
Life Itself is the 2011 memoir by film critic Roger Ebert, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the Chicago Sun-Times who through partnership with film critic Gene Siskel, co-hosted a nationally syndicated TV talk show that made him a household name as a critic, with his insights, interviews and patented thumbs up/ thumbs down summary of movies. Multiple failed operations to combat cancer in Ebert's salivary gland resulted in his inability to eat, drink or talk, as well as permanent disfigurement of his lower face, which would seem to be a terrible turn of events for a man who loved to travel, to dine and above all, to talk. Ebert turned to blogging late in life, which led him to this passionate memoir, published two years before his death.

Siskel & Ebert were instrumental in the development of my love for cinema. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, in an era before channel surfing, the Internet or supplemental feature rich DVDs, Siskel & Ebert were literally the only subject matter experts discussing film on any mass medium. At the age of eight, my parents enrolled me in an evening YMCA class (I chose judo) and part of the reason I quit after one class was that it preempted Sneak Previews, airing on PBS at 7:30 p.m. The visual arts trumped any interest I had in the martial arts. As a book reviewer, everything I write to this day is a poor man's Roger Ebert, a style I picked up from his weekly talk show as well the many editions of Ebert's Movie Home Companion I devoured as a kid.

Ebert is as a compelling tour guide of a life as a reader could hope. He grew up an only child in Urbana, Illinois in the 1950s. He just missed the birth of the Baby Boomer generation and as a teenager, his impaired vision earned him a draft exemption from the Vietnam War. His father was an electrician who did extensive contracting on the University of Illinois campus and maintained a close relationship with his son until his death when Ebert was eighteen. Ebert's mother, a Roman Catholic, raised her son in the church and held hopes he'd enter the priesthood. A self-described "smartass" and voracious reader, he took a part-time job with the News-Gazette at the age of sixteen and graduating from UI Urbana-Champaign, was hired as a reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times.

The city room was a noisy place to work. Typewriters hammered at carbon-copy books that made an impatient slap-slap-slap. Phones rang the way phones used to ring in the movies. Reporters shouted into them. They called out "Boy!" and held up a story and a copykid ran to snatch it and deliver it to an editor. Reporters would shout out questions on deadline. "Quick! Who was governor before Walker?" There were no cubicles, except for Royko's. We worked at desks democratically lined up next to one another, row after row. Ann Landers (actually Eppie Lederer) had an office full of assistants somewhere else in the building but insisted on sitting in the middle of this chaos, next to the TV-radio critic, Paul Molloy. Once Paul was talking on a telephone headset, tilted back in his chair, and fell to the floor and kept on talking. Eppie reached in a file drawer and handed down her pamphlet Drinking Problem? Take This Test of Twenty Questions.

In March 1967, Ebert's editor Bob Zonka notified him that their film critic Eleanor Keen was taking early retirement and Ebert had been promoted. His ambition had been to become a columnist like Mike Royko, the street smart newsman who held court at the city desk of the Sun-Times. Unknown to Ebert at the time, the film industry was transitioning out of the factory conformity of the 1930s and into the wide open counterculture of the '60s with landmark films like Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate that challenged societal norms and ushered in an era of director as auteur, many of whom were no older than Ebert.

-- Martin Scorsese. He was slight and filled with energy. He was funny. He was a creature of New York. The first time I went to his house, he was living in a high-rise next to the Russian Tea Room and his living room was jammed with video equipment that I had never seen before, allowing him to project on a big screen. Of course there was also a 16 mm film projector. To some degree his house was a screening room with sleeping and kitchen accommodations.

-- Woody Allen. "I don't care about my lifework for a second," he told me once. "When I die, I don't care what they do with it. They can flush it down the toilet. There's that delusion that it's going to have some meaning to you when, in fact, you'll be a nonexistent thing; there'll be not a trace of consciousness. So it becomes completely irrelevant, what happens after your death. Totally. It doesn't mean a thing."

-- Werner Herzog. Here was a young man unlike any I had ever met. He spoke clearly and directly of unusual ideas. I didn't get the impression of an enlarged ego. There was no boasting. He wasn't pitching or promoting. It was clear to him what his mission was. It was to film the world through the personalities of exalted eccentrics who defied all ordinary categories and sought a transcendent vision. Every one of his films has followed that same mission. Every one, I believe, is autobiographical--reflecting not the facts of his life, but his spirit. He is in the medieval sense a mystic.

More so than the movies, Life Itself detours into two alleys of Ebert's life I never knew about. He discusses his alcoholism, the disease his father kicked before Ebert's birth through the machinations of his charismatic mother, a bookkeeper and businesswoman who, ironically, descended into drink the same time as her son following her husband's death. Sober since 1979, Ebert writes about thirty years of AA meetings and how the oft criticized program benefited him. A creature of Chicago, he surprised me with chapters devoted to his spiritual connection with the cities of London and Venice and his experiences there over the years; these are as laser sharp as any travelogue.

I sailed into Venice for the first time a little after dawn, standing at the bow, the fog so thick San Giorgio Maggiore seemed to float in the clouds. From Venice I went by train to Munich and then to London, where at American Express there was a letter from Dan Curley saying that he and his family were spending the year on sabbatical. Dan was a walker. He had waterproof shoes, a slicker, and a knapsack containing binoculars and a bird guide. Our first day he took me for the walk we later wrote about in our guidebook The Perfect London Walk. We started from the Belsize Park Tube stop and walked past Keats House and into Hampstead Heath and to the top of Parliament Hill, where all of London was at our feet.

Aside from mentioning his former television partner and friend a couple of times, Ebert holds off discussing Gene Siskel until page 312/415. This built a terrific sense of anticipation for me personally. While I inherently mimic Ebert's writing style, I've found that I more often share the opinions of Siskel--he gave ecstatic endorsements to Blue Velvet and Boogie Nights while Ebert qualified his praise at the time--and my favorite chapters are the two or three devoted to his pugilistic partner. Siskel passed away in 1999 of a cancerous brain tumor, the details of which he never discussed with Ebert, even privately. The way Ebert sees it, they had the conversations that mattered.

The night after that appearance we had dinner together in a hotel in Cambridge and had our longest and deep philosophical discussion. We talked about life and death, the cosmos, our place in the grand scheme of things, the meaning of it all. He spoke about his Judaism, which he took very seriously. "I had a lot of long talks with my father about religion," Gene told me. "He said it wasn't necessary to think too much about an afterlife. What was important was this life, how we live it, what we contribute, our families, and the memories that we leave. The importance of Judaism isn't simply theological or, in the minds of some Jews, necessarily theological at all. It is that we have stayed together and respected these things for thousands of years, and so it is important that we continue." This was one of the most touching descriptions of Judaism I had ever heard.

I also found great courage and insight in the final chapters devoted to Ebert's cancer, his medical procedures and the gradual loss of his voice and part of his face. This may be the first memoir I've read where the author deals with his or her own mortality in such candid terms. Ebert writes about his physical and mental trials, his addiction, rehabilitation and realizations, while devoting many paragraphs to the love and support of his wife Chaz, a Chicago litigator and single mother of four who became his full-time business manager and remained by his side through his hospital ordeals.

I came away from Life Itself with an impression of Ebert as a Chicago newspaperman first and foremost, a critic who was far better educated and traveled than the majority of media personalities who've followed in his wake. He quotes Gene Siskel as saying, "You may be an asshole, but you're my asshole," and I detected that as well. I imagine Ebert could've at times seemed like a bastard to many thin-skinned directors or actors whose movie he'd gutted. Evocatively contrasted with how his extended family and peers viewed him, as well as how Ebert influenced me as a writer and reader, this book offers a full picture of the man.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,530 reviews978 followers
April 13, 2019
I consider myself major film buff, yet I was unfamiliar with Roger Ebert until a couple of years ago, when I accidentally stumbled upon his Chicago Sun Times blog. I loved his reviews, even the ones I disagreed with, and the candid tone of his personal blog entries, so I grabbed "Life Itself" the moment I laid eyes on its Woody Allen-style cover in the bookshop. Wow! What a ride this turned out to be! Probably my ignorance about him helped, as I didn't bring any preconceived ideas to the lecture, and I can see how mr. Ebert can be considered a controversial and polarizing subject, especially to fans of a particular actor, director or movie genre. But the book is not really about movies, it touches on them only tangentially, in the impact and revelations they brought to the private development of the author. Life Itself is about looking back and mapping the turning points, the pit-stops and the fellow travelers in the journey of Ebert the man, not of Ebert the critic. There are no film reviews in here, and the chapters about his encounters with famous directors or sacred monsters of the silver screen ocuppy a relative small portion of the text, included here as examples of his style of work and of the major influences on his becoming the person he is now.

The memoir starts conservatively with "I was born!" and goes on to describe the background - parents, grandparents, numerous relatives, the neighborhood and the social climate of the early 1940's. Honestly, I got a little lost in the names of the extended Ebert family and in the rambling nature of the narrative, but I liked the way he traces back his heritage and the yearning for a rich family and social life. The effect of these formative years can be resumed in one phrase:
What have I inherited from those Germans who came to the new land? A group of sayings, often repeated by my father: If the job is worth doing, it's worth doing right.
This seriosity, perseverence, professionalism, integrity manifested early in his school years, and characterizes most of his professional career. Mr. Ebert likes to joke that he drifted into movie reviewing by accident ( I realize that most of the turning points in my career were brought about by others. My life has largely happened to me without any conscious plan, but he started interviewing, writing and editing news articles in school and college, showing early his ambitious nature, his overachiever drive, and frankly, an egotistical streak. I actually envy him, not for the easy lifestyle and hobnobbing with the jet set, but because he is one of the lucky few who worked in a field he is truly passionate about. Before being a cold analytical eye, he is an ardent fan of cinema, be it arthouse cryptic existential foreign movies, classic noir, slashfest horror or even sexploitation low budget romps (a Russ Meyer where he is credited with the script).

There is something unnatural about just ... going to the movies. Man has rehearsed for hundreds of thousands of years to learn a certain sense of time. He gets up in the morning and the hours wheel in their ancient order across the sky until it grows dark again and he goes to sleep. A movie critic gets up in the morning and in two hours it is dark again, and the passage of time is fractured by editing and dissolves and flashbacks and jump cuts. "Get a life," they say. Sometimes movie critics feel as if they've gotten everybody else's. Siskel described his job as "covering the national dream beat," because if you pay attention to the movies they will tell you what people desire and fear. Movies are hardly ever about what they seem to be about. Look at a movie that a lot of people love, and you will find something profound, no matter how silly the film may seem.

Ebert is also a bit of a performer himself and, for all his candid confessions, probably this memoir has its share of selective memories and whitewashing, putting him in a good light for posterity. I am inclined to believe in his honesty, but he is such an accomplished wordsmith, so slick in expressing himself, so articulate, that a dose of skepticism may be in order while reading his account. In his own words, sometimes he can be a bit of a jerk:
A pitchman arrived to kick off the next year. "Everyone you know is a sales opportunity!" he lectured us in the auditorium. "Your parents, your neighbors, even people you meet! Don't be shy! Sell those subscriptions!" I raised my hand. "Sir," I asked, "would you like to buy a subscription?" I expected laughter, applause, and his congratulations. What I got was total silence and Sister Gilberta ordering me to meet with her in the hall to explain why I had embarrassed my whole school. Then followed talks with my parents. I felt humiliated and outraged. It seemed to me I had been mistreated by people with no imagination or sympathy. I suppose in another sense I was being a little jerk. That pattern has persisted.

With the risk of being presumptuous, one of the main reasons I rate this as 5 stars is the resonance I found with his views on various subjects (city walks, eating in small restaurants, books, religion, politics, drinking in bars with friends) and the parallels I found with my own experiences:
Like an alcoholic trying to walk past a bar, you should see me trying to walk past a used bookstore.
My books are a subject of much discussion. They pour from shelves onto tables, chairs and the floor, and Chas observes that I haven't read many of them and I never will.
For years during grade and high school I read secretly at my desk while following the class elsewhere in my mind.
Viewing via video has destroyed the campus film societies, which were like little shrines to the cinema. If the film society was showing Kurosawa's Ikiru for a dollar and there was nothing else playing except new releases at first run prices, you went to Ikiru and then it was forever inside of you, a great film. (this is actually eerie, like he's talking about my own moment, of how I came out to sunlight from the dark viewing hall after seeing Ikiru for the first time and wondering if the world would be changed forever in my eyes)
The perfect London walk: We started from the Belsize Park Tube stop and walked past Keats House and into Hampstead Heath and to the top of Parliament Hill, where all of London was at our feet. Then we set across the Heath to the tumulus under which Boadiceea, a Queen if the Celts, is said to be buried, unless she's under the tracks at King's Cross, which is another legend...

I could tell you about my own perfect Paris walk, but that's another story.

One more reason for Goodreads members to read this book: to learn how to review a book or a movie. You can really learn some tricks of the trade from this guy, after all he is the first critic to win the Pulitzer Prize. It's not enough to be touched by what you see or read, it's about how you communicate your emotion to others, and in this field mr. Ebert truly excels. I took notes of several tips:

The Internet encourages first person writing, and I've always written that way. How can a movie review be written in the third person, as if it were an account of facts? If it isn't subjective, there's something false about it.

I was a subscriber to the Great Lead Theory, which teaches that a story must have an opening paragraph so powerful as to leave few readers still standing.

more advice on writing from one of his newspaper bosses: "One, don't wait on inspiration, just start the damned thing. Two, once you begin, keep on until the end. How should you know how the story should begin until you find out where it's going?"

We discussed felicities of language, patterns of symbolism, motivation, revelation of character. This was appreciation, not the savagery of deconstruction, which approaches literature as pliers do a rose.

I'm not sure a younger generation would be as starry eyed about Mr. Ebert opinions as me, he tends to embrace some old-fashioned ideas about what makes a good movie, and at other times he proves inflexible in his judgements, but he is usually open to a fight, to be contradicted, and this in itself serves to develop a critical attitude and to make sometimes surprising discoveries about your own biases:

The big difference between today's dialogue and the dialogue of years ago is that the characters have grown stupid. They say what is needed to advance the plot and get their laughs by their delivery of four letter words. Hollywood dialogue was once witty, intelligent, ironic, poetic, musical. Today it is flat. So flat that when a movie allows its characters to think fast and talk the same way, the result is invigorating, as in My Dinner with Andre, or the first thirty minutes of White Men Can't Jump.

In another place he quotes Robert Mitchum on film noir: "We called them B pictures. We didn't have the money, we didn't have the sets, we didn't have the lights, we didn't have the time. What we did have were some pretty good stories."

The later part of the book is dedicated to the traumatic events that made mr. Ebert an invalid, unable to speak or to eat. If I didn't already became a fan of his, this would be the place where I would raise my hat and bow respectfully in recognition of his moment of grace, of demonstrating how we can and should maintain dignity, humility, maybe even a sense of humor, faced with a life threatening crisis:
Many people have problems much worse than mine, and at a much younger age, and sometimes joined with other disabilities. I may seem tragic to you, but I seem fortunate to myself. Don't lose any sleep over me. I am so much a movie lover that I can imagine a certain small pleasure in looking like the Phantom.

Wisdom and acceptance didn't come without a struggle - family, friends and good books played their part. He mentions one book in particular that he used as a crutch in moments of despair, from an author I steered away from until now in disagreement about his descriptions of violence, and who I probably should check out after such a dramatic sell:
How strange that a novel about a such a desperate man could pull me back into living. I had no use for happy characters. What did they know?
The book is Sutree by Cormack McCarthy.

Illness and forced immobility turn the eye inward, and Mr. Ebert spends some chapters in discussing religion and politics, thinking about his heritage and the lessons he learned, taking a moderate stance that I find easy to subscribe to:
If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we must regard their beliefs with the same respect our own deserve.

or: All that I require of a religion is that it be tolerant of those who do not agree with it.

he also includes a Brendan Behan quote about libertarians : I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don't respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected to society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in winter and happier in the summer.

from another personal friend - Studs Terkel - mr. Ebert picks an epitaph "Curiosity didn't kill this cat." I like the concept, but I prefer to hope he will put morbid thoughts aside, and that he will continue to regal us with his reviews and his blog entries about life in general for many years.
As for me, there are so many other books by the author that I will like to find and read.

[edit for spelling]
Profile Image for Meghan.
1,329 reviews38 followers
October 30, 2011
A Midwestern childhood and career in newspapers, told in plain, declarative language. Since losing the ability to speak, Ebert says he has recovered detailed lost memories of his past. This paragraph cut through me:

"I wonder what my father really thought about his life. He married a beautiful woman and I believe they loved each other. Whatever had happened in West Palm Beach stayed in West Palm Beach. He married in his late thirties, held a good-paying job, owned his own home on a corner lot. He debated politics with my Republican uncle Everett Stumm, was militantly pro-union, had me worried when Eisenhower defeated Stevenson the second time. He never said so, but I got the notion that the Republicans were not good people. He read all the time. In another generation, he would surely have gone to university and read books with his feet up on the desk, and he wanted me to do that for him. Sometimes I resented him, as when blinded by summer sweat while pulling bagworms from evergreens while he repeated, 'If the job's worth doing, it's worth doing well.' He wouldn't let me have my dog Blackie in the house. He thought rugs were more important than dogs. Did I know how much I loved him? I do now."

The other parts of this memoir include the best of a lifetime of witty remarks and funny anecdotes, and chapters on meaningful relationships with famous actors and directors.
Profile Image for Carole.
503 reviews92 followers
March 3, 2022
Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert is a revealing autobiography written with clarity, truth, warmth and an exemplary outlook on how to have a well-lived life. Most of us know Ebert from his years of writing about movies and later co-hosting a television program about same. He talks about his life from childhood on, his addiction problems and his travels. When he writes about his journeys, I feel like I am walking with him, such are his descriptive passages about the simple pleasures of a walk. He speaks of his marriage with great love. There are also many a wise word about his battle with cancer which he took in his stride, even when he lost his ability to eat, drink or speak after numerous unsuccessful surgeries. I enjoyed this book and found that quite a bit can be learned from Roger Ebert.
Profile Image for Florence.
835 reviews11 followers
October 3, 2011
Even if I wasn't a movie fan I would have loved this memoir by Rober Ebert. It is so honest, painfully so in some cases. He tells us not only about career achievments but fearlessly dives into his personal life. After finishing the book, I really feel like I know Roger. He has had a rough couple of years, but he doesn't pity himself. Instead, he focuses on what life still has to offer and looks forward to pleasures yet to come. He is brave, honest, witty, and inspiring. I admire him. Go for it, man. Give em hell. Read this book everyone.
Profile Image for Lynn.
259 reviews40 followers
November 16, 2016
I am an avid movie fan and devotee of critic Roger Ebert. However, I was not fond of this book. It was long and boring and had too little detail on movies for my liking. The best chapters are those dedicated to famous directors: Woody Allen, Martin Scoresese and Werner Herzog. The sections on alcoholism (his mother, his father, and himself) were equally gripping. However, the sections on his childhood, his early sexual experimentation, his illnesses, and countless descriptions of favorite restaurants, taverns, and bars were excruciating. Too much life not enough movies.
Profile Image for Dan.
1,135 reviews52 followers
March 10, 2022
Life Itself by Roger Ebert

I had settled in my east chair when a key turned in the lock and a nattily dressed man in his sixties let himself in. He held a bottle of Teacher’s scotch under his arm. He walked to the sideboard, took a glass, poured a shot, and while filling it with soda from the siphon, asked me, “Fancy a spot?”

“I’m afraid I don’t drink,” I said.
“Oh my.”
This man sat on my sofa, lit a cigarette, and said, “I’m Henry.”
“Am I in your room?”
“Oh, no, no, old boy! I’m only the owner. I dropped in to say hello.”

This was Henry Togna Sr. He appears in a Dickens novel I haven’t yet read.

This memoir was written in 2012 just two years before Roger Ebert died of cancer and after he had lost the ability to communicate verbally due to jaw removal surgery and complications. My rating on this book fell somewhere between 4 stars and 5 stars.

Attributes that were toward the 5 star end of the scale:

1. Roger Ebert’s relatable style of writing. This is not a memoir written to gain attention but a sincere reflection on his life A life he knows won’t continue for much longer.

2. Backstory of a college town kid. 1950’s American apple pie and blue collar background who started in journalism at a very young age and became famous by writing about an industry made famous by America.

3. Witty. He is both an honest and witty writer who does not take himself too seriously. Most of the chapters involve moments of self-deprecation or funny quips.

4. Personal. His stories about his family , childhood and his bouts with cancer were well constructed and did not always paint him in the best light.

There is one short chapter called the Eyrie Mansion - which is one of the best chapters that I can remember reading in a memoir - which is also literary. In this chapter Ebert reflects on his many times staying at this boutique hotel in London and his memories of the owner - Henry Togna Sr. The owner is a well networked character in London who is both sophisticated and ribald. This older man knows all the ins-and-outs of London and has many romantic relationships. His character leaves quite an impression on a young Roger Ebert and on an older Roger Ebert and his wife. Ebert finds himself reflecting on these good times after learning that the hotel was torn down as part of a London urban development initiative.

On the tedious side there are some chapters - perhaps 1/4 of the book - that were not so engaging for me but understandably cathartic for Ebert as a film critic. These included many chapters on celebrities - like John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Martin Scorsese and Oprah Winfrey - and co-workers that he met in his long career. The stories however never managed to convey much insight to the reader. His chapters on Gene Siskel and Robert Mitchum resonated however.

4.5 stars. Very well written memoir and never sappy.
Profile Image for Jana.
797 reviews90 followers
April 25, 2013
4/4/13: I've been wanting to read this since it came out. Well, sadly, I shall start it today. RIP Roger. I'll see you at the movies.

4/24/13: Very enjoyable. I already liked Roger Ebert, but after reading this book I also respect and admire him. He kept such an amazing outlook even in the worst of times. He had a most wonderful relationship with his wife, Chaz.

Some highlights:

* I loved hearing about his passion for London (agreed!)
* His fascinating relationship with Gene Siskel.
* His relationship with Martin Scorsese. Apparently he (the director) watches Renoir's The River at least 3 times/year. I just queued it in Netflix.
* A college teacher who "took us into Shakespeare so well, I never got out". What a fabulous thing for a teacher to do.
* I felt bad for him because he always wanted a dog! The two experiences he had as a child, turned out very sad.
* Random dog quotes: "I never met a dog that didn't beg at the table. If a dog doesn't beg, it has had all the 'dog' scared out of it". And he could not, just could NOT pass up a dog without wanting to pet it. "Quality time with a dog calms me and makes me feel content". Oh why couldn't he have had a dog? Yes, I'm obsessed with canines. And want to share the love.
* His religious upbringing which stayed with him all his life, as these things do. He ended up an atheist, but did not like to be labeled. He just wanted to be kind and supportive to all around him, including his very religious wife.

He was a great guy.

RIP Roger.

344 reviews8 followers
February 17, 2012
I think Roger Ebert is a fantastic critic and writer. I love his movie reviews and his uncanny, conversational ability to be your ally when exploring film. He never takes cheap shots at actors or directors to make himself seem superior the way some critics do. He won a Pulitzer. He's survived cancer. He can no longer speak, or eat, and still faces the world with wonderment and grace. Frankly, I admire him.

However, this book was a bit of a puzzlement to me. I feel like I know more about him through his movie reviews than I did when reading this, his memoir. The usual Ebert voice was gone, and in its place, was a rather dry, fact-based journey through his life. I know what happened, but not necessarily how he felt about any of it. On the whole, the pages are void of emotion. I can't figure out why, but I felt detached, the book holding me at arm's length even as it detailed private moments and personal triumphs.

Regardless, this is an interesting man with many accomplishments, and oddly, he admits, most of them just suggestions by other people. "Hey, want a job at this newspaper?" "Hey, want this job on TV arguing about movies?" In today's cut-throat world you'd need blind ambition, a shocking amount of connections, and even then you'd still have to claw your way to the top. Not so for Ebert. He became the Sun-Times movie critic, because, after six months of working there, someone said, "Hey, kid, wanna write the movie reviews?" and thus, Ebert was born. Very funny that he turned out to be so very good at it.

I liked the Siskel parts and all the stuff involving Ebert's wife, Chaz, who seems like someone I'd like. But, really, unless you're a die hard Ebert fan, you'll learn more about him through his movie reviews than you will this book.

Profile Image for Gary.
327 reviews198 followers
January 10, 2017
Wonderful. Loved it. Afterwards I watched the documentary ,which is on Netflix now! Read it, and see it!
Profile Image for Adam Ford.
89 reviews9 followers
May 1, 2013
This biography is not worth your time to read. Still, it is someone's life and there is always something to learn from every man's rambling, but this book is self-indulgent and suffers from a lack of a strong editor. The reader can tell that Ebert just wrote whatever he wanted and they published it. I just about quit the book a third of the way through--chapter after chapter about Urbana-Champaign in the 1950s from the point of view of a kid on a bike doing nothing particularly interesting. The first section is painful. It gets better, but still, don't pick this up until you have read Chernow and Massie and Manchester and so many others.

But there were a few nuggets worth sharing:

1. Siskel and Ebert both interviewed Dolly Parton (separately) at the opening junket for 9-to-5, held in Dallas. They both felt a powerful almost spiritual, healing or comforting, spirit in her presence that Ebert never had felt before or afterwards. Dolly Parton had greatly impacted both of them in a short period of time--she must be a transcendent person, full of grace.

2. Ebert loved London, going 2 or 3 times each year. He wrote a book about it: A Perfect London Walk. He liked to go to the same places each time, following a routine and becoming familiar with the same places as they changed over the years. It was like he was touching totems and becoming familiar with the foreign over the decades. He took great joy in seeing the same biker guy come in every afternoon to a certain pub and take the same table. They never spoke, but Ebert knew he would be there and watched for him. Odd. But beautiful in a way. It seems, at least before his marriage to Chaz, he was happiest in London.

3. "One of the most touching descriptions of Judaism I have ever heard", said Ebert referring to a discussion with Siskel about Judaism, which Siskel took very seriously. Siskel said: "It wasn't necessary to think too much about an afterlife, what what important was this life, how we live it, what we contribute, our families, and the memories we leave. The importance of Judaism isn't simply theological or, in the minds of some Jews, necessarily theologically at all, it is that we have stayed together and respected these things for thousands of years and so it is important that we continue."

4. He broke free, totally away from his mother, as an adult after she became an alcoholic. Completely cut her out of his life. She was a good woman and a good mother when Ebert was growing up, but become an alcoholic and became unbearable. Ebert was also an alcoholic for a few decades so he wasn't too hard on her, but to be happy, as a practical matter had to cut her out of his life. Sad. He cured his alcoholism through AA. He swore by it and attended meetings for the rest of his healthy life, wherever he was traveling he found meetings.

5. When Ebert was diagnosed with cancer, all his doctors recommended surgery. He got on the internet and determined that a new unproven neutron radiation treatment was the way to go. He debated his doctors for months until they agreed to give it a try. He is humble enough in this bio to admit that this was a huge mistake and directly led to the loss of his jaw (disfigurement) and would lead to an earlier than necessary death. He believes that if he had listened to his doctors and had the surgery, he would not have lost the jaw completely. He strongly cautions against following his example and trying to be an internet expert on your disease--trust your doctors, they really know more than you do and have your best interests at heart.

6. After he lost the ability to eat, being nourished completely by tube, he missed food, at first. But gradually he stopped missing food because he started remembering it. He could close his eyes and in his mind eat a burger from Stake and Shake, his favorite place from his childhood. He could remember with beautiful detail a soup in a cafe in the south of France, or the chips in a London pub. He was able to enjoy food, maybe more than ever before in his life, even though he could not eat it. I found this touching and insightful into how beautiful our memory can be.

7. Ebert was not a religious man, rejecting the Catholicism of his childhood (even after attending a Catholic school). ("They [the Catholic Church] have been fighting a holding action for a thousand years.") He considered himself a Humanist. He didn't think the existence of God was likely, but didn't call himself an atheist or agnostic because he wanted to be humble in the face of "the mystery we are forced to confess". "Absolutists frighten me", he said of hard core atheists. Maybe his commitment to AA moderated his rejection of God. But he rejected the idea a God that talked to man, even if men believed they heard his voice. He held an odd mix of doubt and reverence for how ignorant we are. He hated the prosperity gospel and sects that proselyte aggressively--"A worthy church must grow through attraction, not promotion".

8. In spite of religious estrangement, once in the hospital he was laying dead on the table and the doctors had given up on him, stopping their treatments. Ebert says he was not ready to die yet and was aware that he wanted to live. His wife Chaz was in the room and she claimed she could literally feel his heartbeat inside of her, that she could feel him not ready to die and wanting to live. Chaz told the doctors to try once more, that she was certain that he would live and that he was ready to be revived. They did and Ebert lived. He did not attribute this experience to a God with a beard and holes in his hands, but recognized it as an unexplained and merciful miracle.

9. Egbert loved and lived by a Brenden Beane [sp?] quote: "I respect kindness in human beings, first of all, and kindness to animals. I don't respect the law. I have total irreverence with anything connected to society, except that which makes the road safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper, and the old men and old women warmer in the winter, and happier in the summer."

10. "Kindness sums up all my political beliefs. No need to spell them out."

Well, these comments have some pretty good stuff in them, but don't be fooled. The book wasn't that good--this is like a trailer that contains all the good parts of the movie. Ebert was a nice guy, a genuinely good guy, but this isn't a great autobiography.
Profile Image for Laurel.
404 reviews193 followers
April 9, 2013
Honest, funny, poignant and insightful. Some of my favorite quotes:

About the movies
There is something unnatural about just…going to the movies. Man has rehearsed for hundreds of thousands of years to learn a certain sense of time. He gets up in the morning and the hours wheel in their ancient order across the sky until it grows dark again and he goes to sleep. A movie critic gets up in the morning and in two hours it is dark again, and the passage of time is fractured by editing and dissolves and flashbacks and jump cuts. ‘Get a life,’ they say. Sometimes movie critics feel as if they’ve gotten everybody else’s. Siskel described his job as "covering the national dream beat," because if you pay attention to the movies they will tell you what people desire and fear. Movies are hardly ever about what they seem to be about. Look at a movie that a lot of people love and you will find something profound, no matter how silly the film may seem.

About his wife
How can I begin to tell you about Chaz? She fills my horizon; she is the great fact of my life; she is the love of my life; she saved me from the fate of living out my life alone, which is where I seemed to be heading. If my cancer had come, and it would have, and Chaz had not been there with me, I can imagine a descent into lonely decrepitude. I was very sick. I might have vegetated in hopelessness. This woman never lost her love, and when it was necessary she forced me to want to live. She was always there believing I could do it, and her love was like a wind pushing me back from the grave.

About illness and memories
One of the rewards of growing old is that you can truthfully say you lived in the past. … In these years after my illness, when I can no longer speak and am set aside from the daily flow, I live more in my memory and discover that a great many things are safely stored away. It all seems still to be in there somewhere. … You find a moment from your past, undisturbed ever since, still vivid, surprising you. In high school I fell under the spell of Thomas Wolfe: ‘A stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.’ Now I feel all the faces returning to memory.

What’s sad about not eating is the experience, whether at a family reunion or at midnight by yourself in a greasy spoon under the L tracks. The loss of dining, not the loss of food. Unless I’m alone, it doesn’t involve dinner if it doesn’t involve talking. The food and drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments, and memories I miss. I ran in crowds where anyone was likely to start reciting poetry on a moment’s notice. Me too. But not me anymore. So yes, it’s sad. Maybe that’s why writing has become so important to me. You don’t realize it, but we’re at dinner right now.

About kindness:
Kindness covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. 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. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.

Profile Image for Tad.
1,103 reviews1 follower
December 29, 2011
I don't think I have ever picked up a memoir that was this detailed and thorough. Ebert painstakingly recounts the most minute details of his life and that might be a turn-off to a casual reader. However, I've been a fan of Mr. Ebert's for going on twenty years now so to me, it held endless fascination. I enjoyed reading about his life and I thought the chapters he wrote about certain celebrities were absolutely pitch-perfect and truly conveyed the affection he felt for them. There were chapters that made me laugh, chapters that made me cry and chapters that made me smile. With this book, Roger Ebert has crafted a remarkably detailed look at a life lived to the fullest. Full of intimate, personal details and crafted with so much love, this memoir will hold a special place in my heart. I've long been a fan of Roger Ebert's but now after reading this memoir, I can honestly say that I think he might just be one of the most outstanding individuals out there. He's given us film fans so much over the years and now he's given us this: a memoir worthy of his name and full of the joy and exuberance that he has for life even now.
Profile Image for Rob.
700 reviews97 followers
October 16, 2014
Like Stephen King and Harlan Ellison, Roger Ebert entered my life at an early age and forever altered the way I looked at the world. Even though I was too young to appreciate it, I still remember the opening credits to Sneak Previews – the ticket, the popcorn, the candy, the broken soda machine – which also means I must have seen at least a couple early episodes of Ebert’s review show with Gene Siskel. I have stronger memories of At the Movies, the show that ran until Siskel’s death in 1999 (I don’t really consider his pairing with Richard Roeper – which ran until 2006 – as part of the canon). Since I was still a nascent film buff, the big appeal for me was the fighting. Ebert and Siskel’s friendly – and occasionally not-so-friendly – rivalry was legendary, and I think many people tuned in to the show for the same reason I did, to watch this two passionate men argue about the medium they loved most. Of course I came to value the show for the duo’s informed criticism, but for a while I just remember feeling a delicious discomfort when I saw Ebert getting hot under the collar.

Roger Ebert, Gene SiskelI know the common perception is that the two hated each other, but I think anyone who’s shared a passion with another person recognizes their own arguments in Ebert and Siskel’s squabbling. My own friends and I argued constantly over such crucial topics as Star Wars or Star Trek? Conan or the Beastmaster? Spider-Man or Batman? (Incidentally, Star Wars, Conan, and Batman are the correct answers.) The arguments were usually heated and often personal, but our friendship was never in doubt. And of course that’s exactly what I came to see in Ebert and Siskel: you don’t argue like that unless there’s a core of love – for the medium and each other – at the heart of the dispute.

Siskel indeed gets a couple loving chapters in Life Itself, Ebert’s memoir, along with accounts of his life growing up in Illinois, stories of his newspaper days with the Sun-Times, anecdotes about some of his favorite celebrities, and meditations on all his loves: cars, breasts, Steak ‘n Shake, the movies, and, most crucially, his wife Chaz. It’s a memoir with an air of the autumnal; at the time of its writing, Ebert had survived his cancer recurrence and three failed surgeries to repair his face and restore his voice, but there’s an inescapable melancholy to it, and the sense that Ebert was, in some ways, starting to close the curtain.

I think the thing that struck me most about the book is how much of myself I saw in it. It’s likely I’m just projecting because I admire the man so much, but I noted several times his observation – which I’ve also had with increasing frequency – that none of us ever really change as we age. It’s conventional wisdom that at some point we figure it all out, and we enter the later stages of our life secure in the knowledge that we can just ride things out with confidence and aplomb. But I still – for better or worse – feel like the same dweeb I was at 16: thin-skinned, socially awkward, passive-aggressive, a romantic who doesn’t know how to talk to other people, teeming with an ambition that was generally nullified by laziness and procrastination, and given to fits of self-righteous indignation while still retaining a general hopefulness and optimism. I was that guy then; I’m that guy now.

Ebert acknowledges this stasis in different ways, not least in the acknowledgement that many of his passions – especially breasts and the movies, in that order – remained constants throughout his life. But we also see it in some of his offhand comments.

On being punished by his Catholic school teachers: “I felt humiliated and outraged. It seemed to me I had been mistreated by people with no imagination or sympathy. I suppose in another sense I was being a little jerk. That pattern has persisted.”

On attending his 50th high school reunion: “Looking at my classmates, I wondered if perhaps the person we are in school is the person we will always be, despite everything else that comes our way. All that changes is that slowly we become more aware of what matters in life.”

Maybe that’s not an entirely accurate characterization of Ebert’s point. It’s not that we don’t change; it’s that when we do, our core remains the same. For everything else the book does – and it does a lot – it’s this lesson that stuck with me, and, seeing my own experience reflected in Ebert’s, I find it oddly comforting. This is the way life is; why fight it?

As good as the book is, there are parts that worked less well. This is likely just a matter of taste, as Ebert’s candor and humor is a constant. Still, I found myself drifting during some of his lengthy tales of workplace personalities at the Sun-Times, and I will never be particularly interested in tales of John Wayne or Robert Mitchum. But there were more places that set my little movie-loving heart aflutter – entire chapters on his experiences with Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and Werner Herzog – and the closing chapters, where he details his illness and recovery in heartbreaking detail, are worth the read by themselves.

The biggest influence Ebert has had on my life isn’t one from the book. In one of his reviews – and I’d do unspeakable things now to remember which one it was – he said, and I’m paraphrasing: A movie isn’t what it’s about; it’s how it’s about it. This is true of movies, but of books, too, and it’s a lesson I try to impart to my students. The content of a movie – or book – is less important than how the director – or author – frames that content. It’s not that a character is killed; it’s how that death is treated by the film. Is it trivialized, or does it have gravity and import? Context is everything, and it’s the respect, or lack of it, that a director brings to his characters and their struggles that dictates how much corresponding respect we should pay it.

With that in mind, there’s just no way to look at Ebert’s memoir as anything but an unqualified success. With life itself as the subject, Ebert is funny and unflinchingly honest in equal measure. It’s a beautiful – but never regretful – elegy for a life well-lived, from a man who sees the end coming and knows that that’s the perfect opportunity to celebrate it.

More reviews at goldstarforrobotboy.net
Profile Image for Debra B.
729 reviews21 followers
July 22, 2020
A fascinating look at one of America's favorite movie critics. The audiobook was read by Edward Herrman who did a wonderful job.
Profile Image for L.T. Vargus.
Author 60 books990 followers
May 4, 2013
As a movie critic, Roger Ebert's writing was always thoughtful without being pretentious and charming without being manipulative. In just a few words he could get across big concepts and a lot of personality, but, though he was a great entertainer, he was always honest and never pandered to his audience. His memoir continued this tradition.

The early portion of the book gave a very thorough account of his childhood. While the level of detail he recalled in portraying his perspective of the world as a child impressed me, this was probably the least accessible chunk of the book. It felt a little indulgent, which is certainly forgivable given the circumstances. (He wrote it toward what he knew would be the end of his life.) I'd guess these details mean a lot to his family, but as a reader I felt a little left out and bogged down at times.

As it progressed through his college and adult life, however, the book picked up. I laughed out loud several times at funny anecdotes and observations, found some of his obsessions and odd rituals sort of inspiring and, of course, reflected on a number of depressing moments. Just like his reviews, he found a way to make each of these topics along the way very entertaining.

I feel like more than anything, Roger Ebert was a person looking for meaning - in earnest, which I think is rare. He looked for it in movies. He looked for it in his relationships. He looked for it in the deaths of his family and friends. In his last years, he spent a great deal of time looking for it in his impending death. I hope he found it.
Profile Image for Chris Rhodes.
263 reviews541 followers
June 30, 2018
Roger Ebert is great and it was fun to hear a bit of his life story. He was my favorite film critic and I always loved to see what he'd say about a movie. This felt a bit all over the place - skipping around constantly, repeating itself some times, without any real reason other than an attempt at being less of a linear biography I guess - but I still enjoyed it. His writing is great and a lot of fun; despite disagreeing with him on plenty of things, I found it interesting to hear all of his thoughts and feelings and opinions. I'm glad to have read this.
Profile Image for George King.
Author 7 books30 followers
May 21, 2012
This was an interesting book for me to read becasue I'm a film buff and I've taught film in the classroom. Ebert is almost painfully honest at times, particularly when talkng about his parents, religion, his sex life, and his recent illness and subsequent operations. Early in the book I thought there was too much name dropping on the one hand and too many references to people I didn't know or care about on the other. His discussions about movie stars and directors were enlightening and always entertaining, however, and these make up the bulk of the memoir. His reflections on his relationship with Gene Siskel were the highlights of the book. In the final analysis, I came away from the pages wishing I had known Roger Ebert. This memoir is probably as close as I can get.
Profile Image for Erin.
2,094 reviews73 followers
September 1, 2017
I'm too far removed from having read this book to express all the reasons why I loved it (I've been terrible about updating my Goodreads this year), but I absolutely adored it. It's exactly what the title says - it's the life of one man, beginning, to what he knew to be near the end, the good, the bad, the banal and the ugly. It doesn't focus too much on his celebrity, that becomes just another part of his life. Instead he focuses on his memories, his relationships, his travels (you will want to explore London with him so badly it will make you cry).

Roger Ebert was a wonderful, talented, complicated, lucky man. He always knew it. He never forgot it. And the way he presents his life is absolute beauty. Recommended to anyone.
Profile Image for Greg.
1,866 reviews18 followers
February 7, 2017
When Ebert is talking about films and actors and directors, this biography soars. Similarly, when he talks frankly about his TV show/film review showcase with his co-host, Gene Siskell, I wanted to know even more. But Ebert inexplicably opens with a very lengthy introduction to the book and when we come across the same events again, later, portions of this book feel repetitive. And there is much talk of business dealings which just seem to be filler information. I like Ebert, I watched him on TV for many years, and I liked this book, hence my 3-star review.
Profile Image for Ron Christiansen.
650 reviews6 followers
February 29, 2020
Very readable. Ebert can write and he can evoke the details of events 50 years in the past. Many of the chapters can read as stand-alone pieces--steak n' shake, alcoholism, and many encounters with directors and actors such as Herzog.

Watching Siskel & Ebert discuss films in my early years as English major deeply furthered my ability to engage film like literature and lead to me taking two graduate courses in film.

What a life.
Profile Image for Rob Neyer.
227 reviews92 followers
February 3, 2016
Roger Ebert was the first movie reviewer I ever knew, and so I'll always have a soft spot for him. Technically, I came to know him at exactly the same moment I came to know Gene Siskel, as I don't recall paying attention to a movie review before the first time I saw Ebert & Siskel on television. But Ebert seemed more the populist and Siskel the esthete, and when I was 15 or 16 I certainly was more in tune with the populist. For a stretch of years, I would be sure to catch the show every Sunday night, even past the point when I realized the reviews were practically facile, everything reduced to a thumbs-up or -down. More recently, I have found any number of movies that Ebert admired (usually with a three-star review) that I found useless.

But there remains something about Ebert that I've always identified with, which is why I thought I would enjoy his memoir, published just a couple of years before his death. Ebert writes here as he'd always written: breezingly, engagingly, reasonably, if not often beautifully or with great insight. This shouldn't be surprising; his only screenplay was for Russ Meyer, his only novel hardly read. This book is largely a love letter to his parents, his childhood in Champaign-Urbana, his apprenticeship at various newspapers, his many good friends, and the movie people he's particularly admired (at least three times, he notes that Robert Mitchum "didn't give a damn"). Not far into the book, I knew I would be giving it three stars -- oh the poetic justice of assigning stars to the product of a movie reviewer -- but the last two or three chapters do make me long for half-stars, because Ebert knew when writing that his cancer might soon return, which of course it did, and his public attitude about his life, and life in general, align perfectly with what I hope mine are.
Profile Image for Frederic  Germay.
37 reviews39 followers
January 8, 2013
This guy, I just love him! I grew up watching Siskel & Ebert, and later Ebert & Roeper. I credit this man for my appreciation of film, elevating my perception of the medium from mere entertainment to an art form worthy of analysis. And over the past several years, I've read every single review and blog post the man has written.

He has a simplistic melodic prose that doesn't descend into stuffy snobbery as A. O. Scott (another good critic) occasionally does, or unsophisticated surface blabbing as his replacement, Ben Lyons, was notorious for churning out. Rather, he follows his idol, the indomitable Pauline Kael, and shares his personal thoughts and reactions to each film.

In this book, he discusses his upbringing, his education, his torrid love affair with cinema, his marriage, and so forth. He goes in depth about the late and great friends he's had over the years, his partnership with the fabulous Gene Siskel, his courtship of Oprah Winfrey, and the various legendary actors and directors he became intimately familiar with.

Perhaps the most affecting scenes from the book involve his battle with alcoholism and his bout with cancer, which later robbed him of his ability to speak and eat. As a result, he could no longer host his beloved series and watched it sink into oblivion, all while drinking his meals though a tube.

And even now, at the ripe old age of seventy, he continues to prolifically write his reviews, the only outlet still available to his broken, speechless, and disfigured body. The cherished voice of his still feels like old and reliable friend, and I will continue to read his works until the terribly sad day he passes into the void.
Profile Image for Kevin Cecil.
59 reviews3 followers
March 25, 2013
Roger Ebert never struck me as the type of guy who lost his virginity to a South African prostitute; but, he is. I was also surprised to learn he started reviewing movies on assignment, not out of deep love of cinema - which developed through viewing and time. As with many modern memoirs, it is actually an expanded patchwork of previously published blog entries. Each of the 50 plus chapters explores a specific theme, memory, or character but, when experienced as a novel, the overlaps and omissions start to stand out. The first part, chronicling Ebert's childhood through adolescence, is meticulous in the minutia of subjective memory; in this section, his voice is one of a director. However, the perspective becomes more distant, more objective once his life as a film critic begins; and here his voice if one of, well, a critic.

The audiobook was narrated by Edward Herrman (the vampire step dad in LOST BOYS), and he's fantastic. Ebert, for reasons detailed in the book, no longer has a voice of his own. Herrman treats the reading like a role, and inhabits the character of Ebert. Though I can still vividly recall Ebert's actual voice from the countless weekends spent listening to him on AT THE MOVIES, I was able to accept Herrman as a worthy substitute.

My two favorite chapters are available online:
Ebert's Lee Marvin interview:

Ebert's dog story:
Profile Image for Judy.
1,945 reviews29 followers
January 3, 2013
I think that nearly everyone is familiar with Roger Ebert either from his work as the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, his 23 year run as co-host with Gene Siskel of film review shows of different names, or from the many books he has published about films and the film industry. In 2006 he became ill with thyroid cancer and had a series of operations that were successful in removing the cancer, but ultimately robbed him of his ability to speak, eat, or drink. Most people, including, I suspect, myself, would have given up at that point, but Ebert realizing that he is, at heart, a writer turned to the internet and began a blog. In this very moving memoir Roger Ebert is extremely candid about his life--his alcoholism, his difficult relationship as an adult with his mother (he came to realize that it would be impossible for him to marry until after her death), his relationship with Gene Siskel, and his wonderfully happy marriage to his beloved wife, Chaz. Ebert also paints vivid word portraits of such friends as Studs Terkel, Mike Royko, and Russ Meyer (I had no idea that he wrote the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls for Meyer), and has chapters on Martin Scorsese, John Wayne, and Lee Marvin. Warning: this is not an autobiography in the strict sense. Instead it is a memoir made up of entries from his blog, some material written for the book, and essays about specific people who have been important in his life. Ben, thanks for the recommendation.
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