Friday, April 3, 2015

Life Itself - documentary about the life of Roger Ebert

Several years ago, CNN reported for several days about a child who had been attacked by a shark in Florida. In a very unfortunate coincidence, Time-Life was marketing a set of jazz CDs. Their ads played on CNN over and over. And their ad started with Louis Armstrong singing "Mack the Knife" which begins "...the shark has pretty teeth, dear, and he shows then pearly white..."

I thought of this when they talked about Roger Ebert as editor of his university newspaper when Kennedy was assassinated. One article in he paper showed a picture of JFK when he visited the university years earlier. The paper was already in production but Ebert stopped the presses when he realized that an ad on the opposite page had a drawing of a Minuteman pointing his musket at the photo of Kennedy.

I don't pretend to be a critic but I'll mention a few things from the documentary----

Roger Ebert was a recovering alcoholic. He liked hanging around in bars in Chicago, but he finally realized he had to give it up. It surprised me because he appeared in Charles Bukowski's novel Hollywood about the making of the movie Barfly. Bukowski liked Ebert in part because he was drinking screwdrivers.

Gene Siskel was a swinger. At least at one point in his life. Hugh Hefner took a liking to him and he hung around the Playboy Mansion for a time and flew around on whatever Hefner called his private jet.

Ebert lived in a cheap little apartment and Siskel was always afraid he would quit the TV show. He was ecstatic when Ebert got married because it meant he would have expenses and couldn't walk away.

One time, Ebert was hanging around a bar with a prostitute.Back then, he was always hanging around with horrible women. He finally met his very lovely wife at an AA meeting.

He was great writer even in college. Was sort of overbearing and arrogant as editor of the school paper, but he was very good at it, so it wasn't so bad.

The Chicago Sun-Times where Ebert worked was the Working Class paper and had an African-American readership. The Chicago Tribune was white and bourgeois.

The documentary mentioned the terrible power Siskel and Ebert had. They didn't mention this in the movie, but I remember when Warren Beatty was asked about the death of Gene Siskel, and he said he didn't know movie critics ever died. Beatty had blamed Siskel and Ebert for the failure of Ishtar, and he had a point. Siskel and Ebert attacked the movie because the intentionally bad songs were bad.

Another critic described Siskel and Eberts show(s) as "consumer advice", not criticism, which is true. But the documentary also noted that they gave publicity to movies that wouldn't have been widely seen otherwise.

Ebert dismissed the idea that film criticism was dead. Thought the internet had brought about a renaissance in criticism.

No comments: