I’ve never been one to hold up people as heroes in my life. Sure, I’ve had the normal fascinations and fantasies about sports players and rock stars, but they were always just that: fascinations. They were daydreams about living a life I’ve never experienced, but to me a hero was something more. I’ve only considered myself to have one hero and it was largely a secret to most people. My hero was Roger Ebert. It wasn’t the type of thing one flaunted or put up posters on the wall about, but it was a far more personal connection. It was personal in ways that I’ll never be able to articulate fully. I’ll never understand how someone that I had absolutely no personal contact with was able to hold me under his sway so completely. In my mind, what Roger Ebert wrote was worth reading. Always. However, I didn’t always agree with his reviews and that may, perhaps, be the thing I cherish most. When I disagreed with Roger Ebert I really had to look to myself and justify my feelings. He forced me to look at films more critically, and for that I will be forever grateful.
Now I find myself presented with the documentary Life Itself, a film based on the memoirs of Ebert directed by Steve James. Roger had given James full access to his life just months before he passed and much use was made of personal footage and interviews with those that knew him best. The only glaring omission to my mind was leaving out all mention of Richard Roeper. It puzzles me as to why those years of their partnership were omitted in his life story. However, the rest of his life is beautifully presented. It is unflinching towards the less desirous characteristics of his personality and faces the tribulations of his cancer treatment with candor and honesty.
I will not be giving this film a grade. Suffice it to say that it moved me to be able to watch a bit of the life of a man I never knew, but yet always felt close to. I cried while watching the end and felt the loss of his passing all over again. I believe that the film will be impressive and moving for even those that weren’t enthusiasts, but that belief is mired in a bias so thick that it’s palpable. To those that are not fans of Roger Ebert this may be an interesting two hours spent learning about the life of a complicated and celebrated man, but to me it was a chance to spend time with my hero, which much like the writings that came before it, is something that I will cherish forever. Rest in peace Roger, and thank you for all that you did even for those you never met.