Life Itself

(Steve James, 2014)

with Robb Stey and Mike Lavoie, Sundance Resort Screening Room, 1/23/14



Roger Ebert taught me how to love movies.  How could I possibly be objective about this one?  Ebert has influenced the course of my life more than almost anyone; ever since a thirteen-year-old version of me haphazardly picked up his 1993 movie guide at my grandparents’ house in Maryland – out of sheer boredom, more or less – I’ve understood that the movies are an art form worthy of study, discussion, obsession, and worship.  I wouldn’t have started coming out to Sundance if it hadn’t been for Ebert.  I wouldn’t have started this blog if it hadn’t been for Ebert.  I might well have never made a movie of my own if Roger Ebert hadn’t turned me on the medium in the first place.  That puts him up there in my pantheon of heroes with people like Jimmy Stewart, Tom Stoppard, and Steve Martin.  He’s that big for me.

Where it all began.

Where it all began.

I never spoke a word to Roger Ebert, and he never spoke a word to me.  The closest I ever came to him was using an adjacent urinal at the Eccles Theatre in January of 2000 – my very first year at Sundance.  It was a trivial, almost laughable moment, but it kind of meant a lot to me.  I was eighteen.

I’m thirty-two now; I’m out at Sundance for probably the twelfth time; and Ebert is still pushing me into new places.  Last night Mike and Robb and I drove deep into the canyons of the Wasatch Mountains, and found ourselves for the first time at Sundance Resort Screening Room, where we took in Life Itself.  It’s a rich and beautiful movie, edited with uncanny insight and clarity.  It gives us an Ebert as stubborn and childish as he was warm, brave, and perceptive – an Ebert who fought ignorance, indifference, cancer, and Gene Siskel with the same unshakeable tenacity and unflagging humor.  The portrait of Siskel and Ebert’s friendship that emerges here is both caustically funny and deeply moving; it’s clear that they cared for each other a tremendous amount, and it’s equally clear that they never knew any way to express it other than by endlessly bickering onscreen and off.

I can’t tell you how glad I am to have had this chance to say goodbye to Roger Ebert.  He was a titan in the world of cinema, and he was a personal titan to me.  The world is a little poorer for his passing – but if this movie reminds us of anything, it’s that life is to be cherished.  Every last goddamn minute of it.


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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Nice write-up Keith. This one is on my short list. He is certainly an inspiration to me as well.

    • Thanks, Robbie! Can’t wait to hear what you think of the film.

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