Monday, March 05, 2012

Life Itself by Roger Ebert

One of the neat things about having a two hour daily commute in Los Angeles [hey, I'm trying to stay positive about my commute; I've also started a photography project called Traffic that taps into the ugly/beautiful conundrum that is Los Angeles traffic] is the fact I can devote a lot of time to reading. Well, not the usual book-in-my-hands traditional reading since I'm vacillating between 80mph or a traffic jam. I'm talking about books-on-CD. I've listened to six of them in the six weeks I've been commuting. I might crack 100 books read in 2012 due to this recent audio binge. Recently, I listened to film critic Roger Ebert's memoir Life Itself and while it passed twelve hours of driving time, I have mixed feelings about it.

I'm not naturally a fan of memoirs, I prefer biographies due to the distance a good biographer has in telling a person's life. Autobiography tends to be more self-absorbed [obviously] and I can never quite trust what the author is saying about the life they've lived. Early on in Life Itself, Ebert talks about how his recent foray into blogging had inspired him to delve into the quagmire of personal memory. The result is Life Itself, a stuffed with details history of Ebert's life that has far too much focus on the small details rather than getting to the things about his life that I find most interesting.

I wanted to read about Ebert's life as a critic and his relationship with directors, actors, Gene Siskel and other film related topics. You have to wait an awful long time in Life Itself before those topics finally come up. Instead, there's chapter after chapter of the minutia of Ebert's memory related to his childhood and young adult life. I was close to quitting when Ebert finally got around to talking about Lee Marvin, Russ Meyer, Werner Herzog, Robert Mitchum, Martin Scorsese, Siskel and other people in the film industry. And, the chapter about his sex life? That's a topic I didn't think I would ever know anything on.

It's Ebert's story to tell because it's his life he's writing about in Life Itself, I just wish he'd concentrated more on things connected to film. Maybe he's written so much about movies that he was trying to write about other topics? Fine. But, you are Roger Ebert, arguably the most well-known film critic of all-time. Film has to be THE major element of your memoir, right? Don't get me wrong, there's a fair amount of attention to cinema, just not enough compared to the endless chapters about his youth. Life Itself ends up being a hit-and-miss affair for me regarding Ebert.


Eva said...

Whoa, that's so weird. That's exactly the very book I JUST finished reading last night (and brought back to the library today). I was just thinking of you last week some time during the chapter on Herzog and letting you know that there is a Herzog chapter in there, and here you are posting on that very book.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

Too funny. I finished it a couple of weeks ago, but just got around to writing about it. Did you like it? Did you find it as detail-focused as I did? I wish there would have been MORE film talk!

I've got John Lithgow's memoir coming on audio book soon--I'll probably write a review of that one too.

Eva said...

I actually really liked it, but then again you could probably throw me just about anybody's life story and I would be super-interested in it. i liked his frankness, and his thoughts about his face and what he can make of his life now etc. I like his humbleness and chat-away kind of style. True, there could have been more movie stuff in it, but i ddn't mind, I read so many movie books anyway. Plus he wouldn't have met many of those people that I am most interested in because they would have been a few decades earlier. I definitely enjoyed the chapters on Herzog and Mitchum.

And what he can do with the very diminished abilities he now has. I know some about that, I had to get through a couple of my years like that due to health. Of course nothing like Ebert and not for the rest of my life. But still, a large lesson how to make much with very little, getting creative, using what you still have.

Strange too that my health crisis began/was at its worst in Urbana-Champaign. So strange that the worst three months or so of my life were spent there. I actually got quite anxious when I saw how much of the first few chapters were about all his younger years in Urbana-Champaign. The same town where the most horror-filled months of my life happened, that's where his memories of a happy childhood happened, so much detail, so much fondness. Once I'd gotten over the reluctance to expose myself to anything Urbana-Champaign, I found it neutralized some of my personal horror about that place.

I enjoyed it a lot, and if I'm in more need of movie-related stuff, I'll just get my next book out.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

Yeah, there's a lot on Urbana in this one. I could see how that might give you pause due to the details that Ebert writes about regarding his home town.

I really admire Ebert's attitude regarding his battle with cancer, so those sections were interesting too. I grew up watching Siskel and Ebert every week and have always had a fondness for Ebert. I'm glad I read this, but just wish he'd have skipped some of the chapters about what he can remember from Urbana or childhood or his teenage years.

Loved the section on Steak and Shake!

hidden staircase said...

my dad always watched this (he didn't go to movies...but he liked to know what was out there and going on! well, and the tv was always on anyway!) i remember seeing it a bit and usually seemed to agree more with siskel's ups and downs! my dad graduated from the u of illinois at urbana-champaign!