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Click above for your first look at Life Itself, the Steve James-directed documentary about Roger Ebert. The doc chronicles the life of the famous movie critic, as the voice of the Chicago Tribune and later as the world's most famous film critic, appearing on television as one half of the iconic Siskel And Ebert duo. But a large chunk of the film also deals with his final days, as Ebert was battling cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands.
The movie takes its title from Ebert's final book, the memoir of the same title. In that book, he recounts his childhood and the early days of his career, revealing what shaped him as a film lover and eventual titan in the industry. As the trailer shows, the film takes bit and pieces, and often entire chunks of prose, from the book in illustrating the paths Ebert took, the places he's been, and the people he's met, in and out of the industry. Werner Herzog makes an appearance, but so do his many barfly buddies.
Where Life Itself breaks from the book, and what may startle some viewers of the trailer, is that it also showcases Roger Ebert's final days of surgery and struggle with rehab, his death being an unexpected tragedy during production. In the later stages of surgery, Ebert had to have his jaw removed, and for the uninitiated, it's a difficult visual. Not only because of the absence of a jaw, but because it's difficult to see such a major, beloved figure so altered and disfigured. The documentary shows how jovial and agreeable he remains in spite of that condition, and how he manages to persevere in the face of such adversity. Having seen the doc, I can promise you it's an aching and meaningful film. If you grew up with Roger Ebert, you will be touched.
Magnolia Films is releasing Life Itself on the Fourth Of July, where it should be the perfect counterprogramming to Transformers: Age Of Extinction. Instead of seeing Michael Bay's vision of the world, filled with anger, derision, violence and commercialism, instead here's a portrait of a man who loved the cinema, who ate, slept and breathed it.
The quote that ends this trailer is Roger Ebert claiming, "For me the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people that are sharing this journey with us." Ebert didn't believe in segregating movies, he didn't believe in isolating one foreign film from another blockbuster. Hopefully, when Life Itself is available in theaters and on-demand, you can also examine the picture not only as one of the year's most touching documentaries, but just another movie, another journey into the unknown, another one of Roger Ebert's treasured adventures.