To say Roger Ebert is an idol of mine is to not give him enough credit. Every Friday morning, I awoke eagerly to run outside, grab the Chicago Sun-times, and toss the rest of the paper aside so I could locate the Weekend Plus to find his weekly reviews. Every Saturday night at 6:30, you would not find me anywhere else but glued to the television to watch "Siskel and Ebert." I would be to the point of extreme frustration if I ever had to miss it (just ask my parents).
In my early high school years, I had the opportunity to meet Roger Ebert. I was reading the Sun-Times when I stumbled upon a snippet that announced a book signing of his latest book at the nearby Barnes and Noble. I immediately called my mother at work and basically begged and pleaded for her to take me that evening.
We arrived over one hour early for the signing, and we found seats in the first row. I couldn't believe it. Not only was my dream of meeting Roger Ebert about to come true, but I was in the front row! I felt like I couldn't breathe, you have no idea. I eagerly awaited his arrival, peeking over my shoulder every few seconds to see if he was coming. And then there he was, descending down the escalator. My heart skipped a beat. My idol was here. An opportunity for questioning was presented, and I asked, "What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to be a film critic?" His answer lasted 20 minutes. After receiving his autograph, we took a picture with both of us giving the immortal "Thumbs Up" pose. My mom told him that my meeting him was like meeting the president. She couldn't have been more correct.
On April 4th, 2013, we lost this brilliant man. The world of cinema came to a halt. What a tragic day this was. I remember spending hours cruising the web, reading articles and watching videos, and just sobbing. I felt like a best friend or family member had died.
2014 brought upon the superb documentary "Life Itself," an intimate look into the world-renowned film critic's life from childhood until his final days, where many of the scenes showed him at the hospital or in rehab. What a treat to explore the early days of his life and to see how his career built up to the level of extreme popularity that it did. I was especially delighted to see footage of "Siskel and Ebert." Early childhood memories of sitting in front of the television permeated through my head, and the bonus of seeing outtakes of the two bickering in between takes brought a huge smile to my face.
Other heartwarming moments came from scenes that showed Roger interacting with his wife, Chaz Ebert. They had such a beautiful, loving relationship. You can see the pure bliss on Roger Ebert's face when they were together. She was so supportive of him, so kind and caring. The pain on her face as she watched her husband struggle in his final days was so apparent and so real. I couldn't stop crying during these scenes. In fact, as the film ended, I continued to cry. The credits had finished, and I was back at the Netflix home screen, tears streaming down my face.
I do hope this is one that will stick around on instant streaming and not go away any time soon. This is the type of movie that I will rewatch multiple times. In fact, this is the best documentary I have ever seen, although perhaps I am a bit biased due to the subject matter. How in the world did this not get nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars this year?
As the two-year anniversary of Mr. Ebert's death approaches, I remember the man who continues to be one of my biggest inspirations. If it weren't for him, I would never even think about writing about film. He helped to further my passion for film. For everything you have done not only for me but for others, a big thumbs up to you, Mr. Ebert.