Life Itself by Roger Ebert. Grand Central, 425 pages, $27.99. A curious, uneven but entertaining and much-awaited book. The Roger Ebert the world now knows is almost in diametric opposition to the Ebert of his greatest fame.
The first Roger Ebert rode a sudden, mad, worldwide love of film to multimillion-dollar status as a TV institution and household word as well as a Pulitzer Prize. He became the symbol of a profession which his weekly pillow fight with the charmless Gene Siskel was doing everything possible to trivialize during its greatest historic moment. To mass America, "film criticism" came to mean a couple of overgrown boys squabbling on television like, well, overgrown boys.
The Ebert we have now is a TV producer, true, but mostly a writer. He's the thyroid cancer survivor who writes this in the introduction to his life memoir: "In these years after my illness, when I can no longer speak and am set aside from the daily flow, I live more in my memory and discover that a great many things are stored away. It all seems to be in there somewhere."
Now frail and scarred and unable to talk, his predicament coincided with the era of the blog. "My blog became my voice, my outlet, my 'social media' in a way I couldn't have dreamed of. Into it, I poured my regrets, desires and memories. Some days I became possessed."
He also gained entry into this life memoir which is far more poetic than you'd expect it to be if you'd never read his blog but just as entertaining and often as callow as you might expect from his most fatuous TV talk show appearances (his way of evening the score with John Simon over his gruesome descriptions of people's personal appearance is to note that he can't "help looking like a rat"; and no, the world needs to know, he and Oprah never actually "dated.")
So much here, though, is appealing -- not least his star tales told out of school and his love of newspapers under their current siege. His isn't a big life, but circumstances have certainly made him a bigger writer.
-- Jeff Simon