Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Roger Ebert: Life Itself

The most useful advice I have ever received as a writer, "One, don't wait for inspiration, just start the damn thing.  Two, once you begin keep on until the end. How do you know how the story should begin until you find out where it's going?"   These rules saved me half a careers worth of time and gained me a reputation as the fastest writer in town.  I'm not faster.  I spend less time not writing.
--Roger Ebert

I fell in love with Roger Ebert the writer after reading this much talked about article in Esquire Magazine last year.   I had always simply regarded him as that movie critic for the Sun-Times and on that TV show with the skinny guy, but Esquire made me consider him as a fine writer and an interesting man. When I heard of his memoir, released this year, I put myself on the list to check it out from the library.  I had to wait a few months to get it.

Roger Ebert has had a life many of us would envy. One observation he made of his life early in the book is that none of what happened to him, happened by design, or because he had some sort of plan.  All his major life turns were accidental.  In 1967, he was suddenly told by his editor that he was the new film critic, and he began reviewing movies and made a life out of it.  He was suddenly offered the gig reviewing movies for PBS which eventually was put on commercial TV, and thus he became a household name around the country when he sat down every week with Gene Siskel. In the last reinvention of himself, his editors at the Sun-Times requested he blog. He began to write on-line and discovered the wonder of having conversations with his fans and his movie community. It was a whole side to his career he never considered. I loved the idea that his fabulous life was entirely serendipitous. 

Roger Ebert then takes us along on the journey of his life as he meets and greets famous movie makers, actors and other famous writers.  He travels in London, South Africa, Venice and New York.  At times his book is poignant: stories about his childhood dog or his father's death or the sad tale of his love life under the thumb of his judgmental mother.  I was especially interested in his friendship with fellow critic Gene Siskel, I shed a tear over that chapter.  Many chapters are great behind the scenes tales of his life among the stars and directors.  If you want to know about Ingmar Bergman or Martin Scorsese and what they were like as directors and subjects, this is a great read.  Toward the end his chapters are philosophical as he digests the last sad chapters of his life.  He is unable to eat or talk due to his cancer and many surgeries, so his abilities to read and write become more and more important to him.  He thinks of his own death and makes sense of God and religion.  I loved the whole memoir, and think it can serve as a great primer on how to write a memoir--focusing not so much on the linear passage of time, but more on the themes of our lives as we look back on a life well spent.

The book was at its best when Ebert looked deep into this past in the early chapters as a boy in Urbana, Illinois. I did not care as much for the gossipy chapters on movie stars, and I hope to God I can write as beautifully and cogently about my life when and if illness begins to run its course as Roger Ebert can.  If you are a movie fan or a fan of the memoir, this is a great choice.  I give it a thumbs up!

1 comment:

Steph said...

Wow, and how cool that he's an IL boy!