Monday, July 28, 2014

Life Itself

2014, Steve James (Hoop Dreams) -- cinema

I generally do not watch documentaries. I can only answer "why?" with the standard, "I get enough of real life, IRL." But its probably more about my personality's lack of desire to buy into someone's agenda, to be influenced by someone's presentation to think a certain way, to take on a way of thought, to be impressed about something because they are, to be overly upset about something because they are. But I already had bought into this agenda, a fond remembrance of Roger Ebert, his life and his last days.

The premise of the movie was the film maker documenting Roger, interviewing him, to create a film version of Roger's book Life Itself. And this film sort of is that, but it inevitably had to be a view into Roger's last days. I was reading his blog during the days this film was documenting the decline. It is a window into the true story of what we didn't know, what Chaz or he couldn't or wouldn't share. It is sad, it is challenging and its (yes, cliche but it is) uplifting.

There is very little objectivity here. Oh, as we explore the drinking with the newspaper times with his old bar buddies (some still sitting in the bar after all these years) we see how much of an over the top drunk he could be. He was loud, sometimes angry and often confrontational. Which is why he probably stopped drinking. It took a while though. But the men interviewed remember him fondly, very fondly.

During the days of Siskel & Ebert, even I knew there was a bit of heat between the two. The producers obviously milked it for the episodes, but I never knew how real it was. Again, Roger could be a bit of dick and very petulant. But in the end, these two men cared for each other on a different level, born out of mutual understanding and respect. It was heartbreaking to find out that Roger was denied a window into the death of his friend, during Gene's last days with brain cancer. I will have to read back in the blog to see if he ever discusses it.

Besides these two periods, where we see Roger as a flawed human, there is little that is not glowing. He was a very very smart man, working in positions far ahead of his age. Yet, he was not about intellectualizing film critique, as many of his detractors were, and he applied his genius to making presentable, easily absorbed film commentary. I wonder how many people who considered him the snooty film critic, understood he was doing his best to be on their level with them, instead of talking down. He absolutely loved film, from the highest forms of art down to the grimiest exploitation flicks.

I sat uncomfortably through a number of the connector scenes, as we sit in the room with Roger, going through post surgery events, and recovering in the hospital after finding a fracture in his hip. This is post removal of his jaw, but during a tough time for him. He alternates between times of great discomfort and unflappable positive behaviour. I always marveled at how he could write so clearly, with such good nature while knowing what he was going through. But seeing him, that flap of skin that was once a lower jaw, confined to a chair, I was just .... out of sorts. I never liked hospitals and have always been uncomfortable around the infirmed. Add to this the ending I knew was coming, I squirmed a lot.

I envied him the calm I could not have. Even in his last days, he was so bright minded. I live my life with a lack of focus (the vision issues transposed themselves to personality) and no distinct aspect of my life that I am completely confident about. He knew he could write and nothing could stop him, not even impending death. His last blog post was the day before he passed. He knew he could not come out of that operating room, but he was planning for the blog's continuance. I envy that confidence.

I also rather enjoyed the views into Chaz. I really knew nothing about Roger's personal life until he was blogging, thus I was introduced to her via his words. She was one stalwart woman, putting up with him and when the cancer came on, with all of its trials. I suspect she is not as stonewall strong as she presented, but that she puts forward this brave face is astounding. She saw her husband doing it and felt compelled to reflect it as well. I do worry she was never given the outlet to rail against the injustice of it all, but really, what is the point.  In the end, like Gene Siskel made his ending his own, Roger made sure his ending was up to him. Chaz supported him as far as she could, but the final decision was his. And she accepted that, but with the denial that comes with losing the love of her life.

And yes, I shed not just a few tears.