Life struck me as several cuts above “meh” but never made me jump out of my seat.
Before we get into the special features, another quick word on the film itself. Having seen it at Sundance, Ebertfest, and at the Chicago premiere, and holding the position I do here at a site that's designed to honor his legacy, I can't really extricate my personal response to it from a critical one. With that caveat aside, I truly feel that "Life Itself" has a universal appeal. Like Roger's writing brought in readers, it is designed in such a way by Steve James to embrace the viewer with humor, warmth, and remarkable honesty. It's just a great story whether or not you like film, film criticism, or even Roger himself. It doesn't put Roger Ebert on a pedestal as much as show viewers why others put him there. James uses friends, family, colleague, filmmakers, and, of course, Chaz to tell the story that Roger couldn't. It's a marvelously constructed documentary in every way, and fans of it will be happy to know that there's a lot of material from the cutting room floor soon to be available on Blu-ray.
DELETED SCENES (22:23)
1. The longest scene opens this collection and is arguably the only one that I would have kept in the film, but that's because of my love for Ebertfest. Ramin Bahrani and Chaz discuss the origins of Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival (it all started with "2001") and the "warm embrace" of the event for Roger and his fans. It's a family down there at the Virginia Theatre and I can't wait to go back this year.
2. Thea Flaum relays a story in which Gene Siskel scooped Roger Ebert, and then told him all about it.
3. Roger Ebert was the king of dirty limericks and jokes. It was one of the things that he missed most when he lost his voice: the rhythm of comedy.
4. A GREAT bit in the hospital as Roger tries to make someone laugh purely because he loves the sound of it. Even in pain, he cherished the sound of other people being happy.
5. An interview segment with Jonathan Rosenbaum about how he admired Roger Ebert as a science fiction writer long before he was published. And that he may have written him a letter expressing as much. It's amazing that they identified with each other before either of them became film critics.
6. An interview with Rick Kogan about the talent that Roger showed as a youth.
7. How film works as represented by "Citizen Kane," courtesy of Howie Moskowitz. And Bill Nack talking about how Cinema Interruptus helped him appreciate the phallic imagery in "Vertigo". "He was a terrific teacher."
8. Chaz talking about their first date at the Lyric Opera and the anniversary of it a year later.
9. A quick scene at the hospital with a doctor who went to the same school as Gene. Roger thinks he looks like Dustin Hoffman.
11. A really excellent deleted scene on how Roger Ebert used his platform to write NOT about film. Politics, God, racism, and Bill O'Reilly. And the backlash and death threats that followed when he would tweet or write politically.
12. A personal recollection from Roger Simon, who shares a letter from Roger that helped him and about how movies helped his recuperation. "Don't let the bastards tell you to get well soon as if it's up to you." What a great line. Even in personal letters to friends, Roger was an amazing writer.
13. The night of the launch of the new site, ushered in by Josh Golden of Table XI. A lot of footage of how the site works. And the actual button push launch of the new site. Drinking champagne. "To Roger"
14. More Bill Nack on Gatsby at the Red Lion and how he could do T.S. Eliot too. A touching memory of true friendship.
15. The final scene is an extended version of the scene in the movie as to who was more cosmopolitan: John McHugh or Roger Ebert? It's the same bit from the movie just extended more with John's response and the European adventure that followed. It's a long story so it's easy to see why James cut it but it's worth the wait.
SUNDANCE TRIBUTE (6:54)
A video tribute from June 2013 when Roger Ebert won the Vanguard Award from the Sundance Institute. It focuses on how Roger championed smaller, independent films, with some of the same footage from "Life Itself" (Errol Morris on "Gates of Heaven", Ramin Bahrani on "Man Push Cart") and a few others, including Steve James talking about how important it was that Siskel & Ebert took up the cause of "Hoop Dreams."
INTERVIEW WITH STEVE JAMES (10:41)
A straight-to-camera series of sound bites from Steve James about the production of the film, including how he got involved, his history, and his approach--Be as candid as Roger; don't hold anything back.
AXS TV: A LOOK AT "LIFE ITSELF" (2:22)
Really just a combination of bites from the interview above and a trailer.
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