Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Roger Ebert: Life Itself

I don't normally read biographies, or autobiographies anymore, mostly because I don't really care about stars' personal lives. Of the few I have read, I've usually finished thinking, "I liked this person better before I read this," or "I really didn't need to know all that." Probably not fair of me, and obviously there are exceptions (Tina Fey comes to mind) but there it is. However. This memoir of Ebert's was fantastic. I can't gush over it enough.

This isn't simply a great story because of his success as a critic or emotional triumph over his many, many health problems (though these things are definitely impressive)---this guy can write. I strongly believe that Roger Ebert could have chosen any path in journalism or publishing and absolutely taken it to the top, he's that good. The chapters in this memoir were very specific, some dealing with his mother, some obviously with his experiences as a critic (THE critic, as it were), and more than a few about his wife Chaz, but honestly, the chapter about his love for his dog was every bit as interesting and emotionally charged as the one where he recounted his struggle with salivary cancer and the three failed surgeries that followed.

On Robert Altman: "There may not have been a director who liked actors more. He had a temper, and I saw him angry with cinematographers, Teamsters, prop men, lighting guys, critics, and people making noise during a shot, but actors were his darlings and they could do no wrong. When he asked for another take, there was the implication that he enjoyed the last one so much he wanted to see the actors do it again simply for his personal pleasure."

On Eyrie Mansion in London: "Fires, I decided, were a source of heat, not merely, like central heating, its presence. There must be something deep within our memory as a species that is pleased by being able to look at what is making us warm."

On losing the ability to eat and communicate verbally: "What's sad about not eating is the experience, whether at a family reunion or at midnight by yourself in a greasy spoon under the L tracks. The loss of dining, not the loss of food. Unless I'm alone, it doesn't involve dinner if it doesn't involve talking. The food and drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments, and memories I miss."

The above passage is actually incomplete; he ends it with what I found to be the most emotional bit in the entire book (and I'm not going to spoil it for you, you'll have to come upon it yourself). I don't know the man, have no connection to him, really, and yes I'm being overly sentimental, but the ending to that paragraph almost made me fall in love with him a little.

Bravo.

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