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3.0 out of 5 starsAmusing Shotgun Memoir
Reviewed in the United States on November 20, 2017
A solid 3.5 star read, this is a very scattershot yet honest and enjoyable account of Mr. Ebert's life according to himself. While mostly linear, it'll come across as rather selective to readers who want a complete picture of this man's fascinating life. His childhood, early days as a news journalist, travels abroad, brushes with celebrities, accounts of alcoholism, and general philosophy of life and death are generously covered. Passages on the travails of his later life (approaching his impending death) are particularly enchanting and reveal the intricacies of a courageous heart and witty mind that never faltered. What is a bit maddening here is that, despite being more than 400 pages long, Ebert only minimally glosses over a couple of hugely important events in his life: One is the transition from news journalism to becoming a movie critic; other than superficial accounts of hours upon hours of private movie-watching, we do not get to understand his surging passion for cinema or how he qualified himself for this new career. The other is the surprising lack of details on his relationship and marriage to Chaz, a fascinating black woman who unquestionably impacted his later life. Maybe she influenced him to leave her out as much as possible? Perhaps he was about to begin an entirely separate memoir on that topic and then sadly passed? We'll never know for sure. What we're left with in "Life Itself" is warmth and wit, albeit incomplete ... still a fairly fun read!
I spent many years going through Ebert's list of great movies and getting them on Netflix. He aided my cultural enrichment over the years. This book is much like this reviews: an honest accounting of what he feels and how he thinks. He's a great writer and vividly draws his life, especially the Normal Rockwell-esque Americana of his youth and his infatuation with London. You can see the highs as well as the lows.
I appreciate the story of a person who simply pursues something they love and finds a way to make it work. Ebert ended up being an all-time great movie critic not because he loved movies, but because he loved to write. Along the way, he fell in love. This is an interesting twist on the "do what you love" pablum so often handed out to young people. It's worth thinking about.
If I could critique, parts of the book are a bit scattershot, like the same stories being told in multiple sections. It almost reads like he repurposed some blog entries as chapters in the book. Of course, this is fine, as chapters are work and flow well (like, well, columns). The chapters on old stars like Lee Marvin and John Wayne may be lost on younger folk who found Ebert because of his website. The Russ Meyer chapter is great, although, of course, his work is downright tame compared to what we can get today within seconds. But that's the point. Ebert is an old-fashioned guy from a different world and a different time. Even then it's impressive how he leveraged the internet to gain a new audience - something only briefly touched upon here.
Being a Chicagoan, I clearly remember the days of Sneak Previews on WTTW and at the movies and all the rest. Personally I tended to follow Gene Siskel rather than Roger Ebert. I found that Ebert's reviews on occasion would include items that really did not have anything to do with the movie itself. But that is my personal opinion. I did enjoy them both on t.v. and their contrasting reviews. Some reviewers of this book said that there was some sections that should be skipped. Early days,growing up and some later toward the end of his life. At first I thought that some of the comments were suspect. If you are from the midwest or the Chicago area the early days are worth reading. The chapters toward the end...not so much. Yet if you are a fan of either one, it is worth reading. Probably the most amazing statement was that being a movie critic was basically dropped into his lap. Another comment is that I don't think that he really understood how much influence on popular culture that he really had. Hey Roger, don't forget to save me an aisle seat.
I really enjoyed this book. Roger Ebert was a wonderful film critic and a gifted writer, as this book will attest.
What a life this man led. He lived large and loved even larger. Very interesting to read about the most important relationships in his life with his mercurial alcoholic mother, Gene Siskell and his wife, Chaz as well as his longest "relationship" with his journey of sobriety. He also tells with great courage and candor the story of his cancer and reconstructive facial surgeries - all of which will pretty much blow you away.
I would have given this book 5 stars, but I found myself rolling my eyes every time Ebert felt the need to use the label of "liberal" when describing a person of whom he approved or shared his life - which was at LEAST once in every other chapter.
I like to keep politics out of my recreational reading and cannot be alone in my weariness of celebrities casting their liberal labels (with the undertone of superiority and disapproval of anyone who doesn't agree with them); it ruins this reader's enjoyment of being a neutral participant of an otherwise really interesting and engaging book.
I have always enjoyed Ebert's insights and interviews and, despite this one irritant as a reader, enjoyed this book very much. I look forward to seeing the film of his life as well.
4.0 out of 5 starsRoger Ebert will be missed, but this book should not be missed.
Reviewed in Canada on May 21, 2013
This is a fascinating read for anyone who grew up watching Siskel & Ebert on TV, like I did. The memoir contains the obligatory chapters about Gene Siskel, how the show came to be, Roger Ebert's experiences with David Letterman and Oprah Winfrey, and the illness that eventually took his life. I'll admit I skipped to those chapters first, but the book also delves into a lot of things I never knew about Roger Ebert, like his battles with alcoholism, his Catholic upbringing, and his strained relationship with his mother.
One particularly interesting insight is that Ebert was a newspaper man first and foremost and that film criticism and TV stardom were things that fell into his lap. He and Siskel both treated film criticism like beat reporters, but instead of covering local politics it was the latest movies he had been assigned to report on. The fact that he was a writer first, a critic second, and a TV celebrity third helps to explain why he was so prolific over the years, even during his long illness, and why this book is so easy and enjoyable to read.
Yes, there are times when the book feels a bit unfocused, and that might not have been the case if it had been written twenty years ago while Ebert was in his prime, but even though he'd lost a few steps by the time he sat down to write his life story, Roger Ebert was still a better writer than most people half his age in perfect health, and this is the best memoir Roger Ebert will ever write, which makes it a must read for his fans. And the fact that Roger Ebert wrote this book at this stage in his life meant that he knew he didn't have a lot of years left, and he addresses his feelings abut mortality in some of the book's most moving passages.
3.0 out of 5 starsinteresting observations about a numbe of well-known people
Reviewed in Canada on July 29, 2013
An end of life reminiscence that provides interesting background on what made Roger Ebert tick, the influences that led to his movie criticism and analysis, his early struggle with alcoholism, his relationships with many well-known celebrities and business acquaintances, and his self-awareness throughout an extremely difficult period of illness and surgery.
Written in a sincere, personal, down-to-earth and thought provoking style. A fascinating account of life in America back in the 1950's and 60's. His numerous accounts of encounters with famous journalists, writers, cinema stars and other artists is very interesting. What a rich and unique life Roger Ebert lived. Thank you for sharing!