Life Itself (2014) Movie Script

We all are born
with a certain package.
We are who we are.
Where we were born,
who we were born as,
how we were raised.
We're kind of
stuck inside that person...
...and the purpose of
civilization and growth,
is to be able to reach out
and empathize a little bit
with other people.
And for me, the movies are like
a machine that generates empathy.
It lets you understand
a little bit more
about different hopes,
aspirations, dreams and fears.
It helps us
to identify with the people
who are sharing
this journey with us.
Exactly five months
before his death,
Roger and Chaz and I
met to plan
the beginning of an ambitious
schedule of filming,
including interviews
and critic screenings.
Roger mentioned in passing
that his hip was sore.
The very next day
he entered the hospital.
So now I got a
hairline fracture to the femur bone.
I didn't fall and have no idea
how it happened.
It's bloody painful.
This is my seventh time at rehab.
This table is weird.
I type much, much better
at home in my usual chair.
Show Steve the new chair.
It reclines.
He will see more of it.
So Roger, did you not pay
your insurance premiums,
and so you didn't get
the chair till now?
Steve, I'll do the jokes here.
This is Flora.
Also, this is Sonya Evans,
my stepdaughter.
I do what they tell me to do.
You wanna rest a little bit,
or work a little bit?
Steve is the director.
I'm just gonna sit down.
Although Roger had supported
my films over the years,
this film was the first chance
to really get to know him.
Steve, shoot yourself
in the mirror.
There he is.
Hi, Carol.
I'm Carol.
I'm Roger's assistant
for over 20 years,
Roger and Chaz.
And Zero Dark something
is winning all the awards, Roger.
It won another big award.
And the Bears lost.
"My daily..." What?
Okay, Roger.
And then Mayor Daley's,
you know, nephew
went to court today.
Remember, for the Koschman thing
that the Sun-Times
really uncovered...
I always worked
on newspapers.
There was a persistent need,
not only to write,
but to publish.
In grade school, I wrote and
published the Washington Street News,
which I solemnly delivered
to neighbors in Urbana, Illinois,
as if it existed independently of me.
At the News Gazette,
a line-o-type operator
set my by-line in lead:
"By Roger Ebert."
I was electrified.
When I went home with it,
you could take a stamp pad,
you could put your by-line
on everything.
My parents finally
had to take it away from me.
Everything was by Roger Ebert.
And I went to work full-time
for the local newspaper
when I was 15,
first as a sports writer,
general assignment,
working late,
being there with the newspapermen
back in the '50s.
It was unspeakably romantic.
I can write,
I just always could.
On the other hand,
I flunked French five times.
In the spring of 1960, I announced
I wanted to go to Harvard,
like Jack Kennedy
and Thomas Wolfe.
"Boy, there's no money to send
you to Harvard," Daddy said.
The Urbana Champaign campus
of the University of Illinois:
to provide knowledge
for a better tomorrow.
I would go
to my hometown university.
I wouldn't be
an electrician like my father.
He told me one day
his father said to him,
"Roger, there's professors
over there,
that's what you oughta do some day.
You wanna sit there
with a pipe,
and a cardigan sweater
with your feet up on the desk."
I think his father recognized
early on that Roger had a gift.
I joined The Daily Illini,
and I ran into him then.
During my years at Illinois,
I spent more time working on
The Daily Illini than studying.
It was in every sense
a real newspaper,
published five days a week,
on an ancient Goss rotary press
that made the building tremble.
As editor,
I was a case study:
tactless, egotistical,
merciless, and a showboat.
And he was.
But it worked
because he could back it up.
It was intimidating
to the members of the staff
because he was like
a mature writer at that time.
Now here, when those
four children were killed
in the church bombing
in Birmingham,
there was a huge protest
around the country.
Four hundred students gathered
on the university quadrangle
to protest the bombing
of an Alabama Sunday school.
And Roger was the voice
of outrage on this campus.
He started off his column by quoting
Dr. Martin Luther King,
who said to George Wallace,
"The blood of these innocent children
is on your hands."
That ended the quote.
Then Roger began his column
by saying,
"That is not entirely the truth.
And it is not new blood.
It is old, very old.
And as Lady Macbeth discovered,
it will not ever wash away."
That began a column written
by a 21 -year-old guy,
and he said it better
than anybody said it all week.
Roger was editor
on November 22nd, 1963,
when John F. Kennedy was shot.
At around two o'clock
in the morning, the presses rolled,
gigantic presses,
two stories high,
chug and chug,
and Ebert was doing
what editors do
at the end of the day:
check out the pages.
And he opens it up and there's
a picture of John F. Kennedy,
and an ad of a pilgrim
with a musket
pointed at Kennedy's head.
Ebert said,
"We gotta switch this."
The pressman said like,
"Hear that sound, Roger?
That's the sound
of newspapers being printed."
Unlike in movies,
you didn't stop the presses.
And Ebert said,
"We're not gonna print that tomorrow.
We gotta stop the presses."
Ebert became famous
to us for that,
because, you know,
here was a kid
taking control
of an adult situation
and making a news judgment,
an important one.
Chicago was the great city
over the horizon.
We read Chicago's newspapers
and listened to its powerful
AM radio stations.
Good evening,
ladies and gentlemen,
it's midnight here in Chicago.
Long after midnight,
I listened to Jack Egan
broadcasting live.
Chez Lounge and
the world famous Chez Paree.
Chatting with Martin and
Lewis, or Rosemary Clooney.
I'd been accepted
as a PhD candidate in English
by the University of Chicago,
but I needed a job.
I got a part time job
at the Sun-Times,
and then five months later,
the film critic retired
and they gave me the job.
I did not apply for it.
Newspaper film critics
had been interchangeable.
Some papers had by-lines
that different people wrote under.
For example,
the Tribune had Mae Tinee,
and that could be whoever
went to the movies that day.
Because Mae Tinee really
spelled out "matinee."
I was at that time the youngest
daily film critic in America.
And it was a real good time
to be a movie critic.
Armed robbery.
Bet you wouldn't have the gumption
to use it.
Now, come here.
It is also
- Hey! What's your name, anyhow?
- Clyde Barrow.
Hi, I'm Bonnie Parker.
Pleased to meet you.
"The fact that the story
is set 35 years ago
doesn't mean a thing.
It had to be set sometime,
Roger was the most facile writer
I ever came across.
Anybody that has ever seen him work.
He could, he could knock out
a full thought out movie review
in 30 minutes.
Fast and furious.
There were so many reporters
that formed
easy quick friendships
because they were smart,
they were good writers,
they were literate,
and they could tell
a good story in a saloon.
O'Rourke's was our stage,
and we displayed
our personas there nightly.
It was a shabby street corner tavern
on a dicey stretch of North Avenue,
a block after Chicago's Old Town
stopped being a tourist haven.
When a roomer
who lived upstairs died,
his body was discovered when maggots
started to drop through the ceiling.
For many years, I drank there
more or less every night
when I was in town.
So did a lot of people.
We all sat at the same place.
The newspaper guys here,
the druggies in the middle,
the surly staff
at the very end of the bar.
Roger has always been attracted
to weird types.
I mean, you should see
some of the women
that he's hauled in
to O'Rourke's over the years.
Back in the old days,
Roger had, probably
the worst taste in women
of any man I've ever known.
They were either gold diggers,
opportunists, or psychos.
Yeah, I met Roger one time
with a woman
that looked like
a young Linda Ronstadt,
and when she was gone
from the table briefly,
I said, "Who is that?"
And he said,
"She's a hired lady."
And I said, "A hooker?"
And he said, "Now you
take care of her when I leave."
And he left town.
And anyway...
Roger, he used to hang from
the lamppost at the end of the bar.
When he got going,
Roger was one of
the finest storytellers
that I have ever come across.
He would hold court,
and it's not like everyone
was invited to join in
and have a colloquy with him.
Since he bought drinks
for everybody
when he had the money,
who's not to listen?
His great friend
was John McHugh.
And I remember
a famous argument
over who was the more cosmopolitan
of the two.
And Ebert was saying,
"John, I travel the world.
I go to every country in Europe.
I go to Cannes.
I'm a cosmopolitan person."
John said, "Ebert, you don't
even speak a foreign language."
And Ebert said,
"I speak enough to be able
to order two Johnny Walker Blacks
anywhere in the world."
Any sober human being
looking at the two of them
would have decided neither was
actually a cosmopolitan figure.
I discovered there was
nothing like drinking
with a crowd
to make you a member.
I copied the idealism
and cynicism of the reporters.
I spoke like they did.
Laughed at the same things.
Felt that I belonged.
Studs wasn't a Chicagoan.
Nelson Algren wasn't born here.
Saul Bellow wasn't born here.
But there's a certain kind
of Chicago character
that Roger really came
to believe that he was.
Roger was not just
the chief character
and star of the movie
that was his life.
He was also the director,
and he brought in the cast,
and the scenario,
and he orchestrated it.
He loved it!
Those characters, what they did.
John the garbage man.
Hank the communist.
I remember the night that Jim Touley
punched J. Robert Nash,
knocked him down
to the bar room floor,
and Nash looked up and he said,
"Nice punch, Jimmy!"
When O'Rourke's closed he would
go down to the Ale House,
because that was a four o'clock bar.
The mood got
rougher and rougher
as people got
drunker and drunker.
Roger was good at dishing,
but he also could take it.
"I'm a fat guy, I'm gonna have to
learn how to take fat stuff."
Roger could hold his own
with all of them.
Everybody kind of says that
deep down he's a nice guy.
He is a nice guy,
but he's not that nice.
He's not that nice.
The last week
he was drinking,
I even realized that there was
a serious problem going on.
Watching him
when he pulled out that night
in front of O'Rourke's,
and almost, you know,
ran into the North Avenue bus.
I remember being in the drug store
that was on the corner there
one morning,
and Roger came in, and he
looked like absolute hell.
And I'm like, "Are you okay?
What's the matter?"
"I'm on a bender.
Can you come have a drink with me?"
He said to me one time,
and I don't think
he'll regard this as a betrayal,
that he would walk home
late at night,
after O'Rourke's had closed,
and he would wish
he was dead.
I found it almost impossible
once I started,
to stop after one or two.
I paid a price in hangovers.
Without hangovers,
it's possible
that I would still be drinking.
I would also be unemployed,
unmarried, and probably dead.
In August 1979,
I took my last drink.
It was about four o'clock
on a Saturday afternoon.
The hot sun streaming
through the windows.
I put a glass of scotch and soda
down on the living room table,
went to bed, and pulled
the blankets over my head.
I couldn't take it anymore.
He says, "I quit."
And then I realized
it's time for me to quit, too.
The next time I saw Roger Ebert,
he was in AA.
I was drinking very heavily.
When I decided to out myself
as a recovering alcoholic,
I hadn't taken a drink
for 31 years.
And since my first AA meeting
I attended,
I've never wanted to.
Since surgery in July of 2006,
I haven't been able to drink
at all, or eat or speak.
Unless I go insane and start
pouring booze into my g-tube,
I believe I'm reasonably safe.
That's it.
By the time I got home
from this shoot,
there was an email waiting for me.
Did we get it?
I hope so, too.
When I mentioned in my blog
that I could no longer
eat, drink, or speak,
a reader wrote,
"Do you miss it?"
Not so much, really.
I lived in a world of words
long before I was aware of it.
The new reality took shape slowly.
My blog became my voice,
my outlet.
It let loose
the flood of memories.
They came pouring forth
in a flood of relief.
One day in the spring of 1967,
I noticed
Faster, Pussycat! Kill Kill!
playing at the Biograph
on Lincoln Avenue.
The posters displayed
improbably buxom women,
and I was inside in a flash.
That was when it first registered
that there was a filmmaker
named Russ Meyer.
In 1969, the 20th Century Fox
studio invited Meyer
to the lot for an interview.
They owned the rights
to the title
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,
and offered him the title
unattached to any story.
Meyer offered me
the screenwriting job,
and I fell into
a delirious adventure.
The most impossible question
for me to answer is,
"How on earth
did Roger Ebert write
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls?"
Or be interested
in writing such a script?
Or be involved with Russ Meyer?
I have no answer.
What did he love
about Russ' films do you think?
The fact that there were
large breasted women involved
probably was a plus.
You know, we can talk a lot
about the art of cinema,
and what we find in it,
and the sort of the magic
and the dreams
and the glory of it,
but there are also other,
kind of, earthier appeals.
You wanna make love?
Then let's make love.
- No, in L.A.
- L.A?
- Where is that?
- We'd get crushed.
Meyer wanted everything
in the screenplay
except the kitchen sink.
The movie, he explained,
would simultaneously
be a satire,
a serious melodrama,
a rock musical, a comedy,
a violent exploitation picture,
a skin flick,
and a moralistic expos
of the oft-times nightmarish world
of show business.
- It's a no talent town.
- Don't put it down.
I had to review
for the Chicago Sun-Times,
and I think I gave it three stars,
because Roger was my friend.
And somewhere deep in the piece said,
"This is a new rating system,
ten stars,
so this gets three out of ten."
This is my happening
and it freaks me out!
I reviewed the film
in National Review.
And listed it as one of
the 10 great films of the 1960s.
It was funny, it had
a pulse that raced past
Howard Hawk's film
from the '40s.
But with the wild
who-gives-a-shit air,
it was perfect for the late '60s.
You're a groovy boy.
I'd like to strap you on sometime.
Beyond the Valley.
It's beyond it.
You know, this is a title,
because you're gonna go beyond it.
It went over my head.
That doesn't mean
I didn't enjoy it.
I did like her
having sex in the Bentley.
It's my first time in a Rolls.
Because of the way
he cut to the grill.
There's nothing like a Rolls.
Not even a Bentley.
Not even a Bentley.
Bentley! Rolls!
A Rolls. A Rolls!
But I did like that editing
in the Bentley.
I don't really have
any new confessions.
It is true that the first 10 years
I came to the conference,
I came primarily hoping to get laid.
That didn't work out.
I lived more than nine months
of my life in Boulder, Colorado,
one week at a time.
It all happened
at the sleep-inducingly named,
"Conference on World Affairs."
It's a conference that comes
together once a year at Boulder.
Astrophysicists, sociologists,
experts of the Middle East.
Free wheeling...
and engaging.
Roger was an absolute star.
He was the longest running panelist
in history of the CWA.
I was in my 20s when I first
came to the conference.
There, I was on a panel
about the Establishment
with Henry Fairly,
who coined the term.
I discussed masturbation
with the Greek Ambassador
to the United Nations.
There I asked Ted Turner
how he got so much right
and colorization wrong.
He would hold what was called
Cinema Interruptus.
On Monday of World Affairs week,
Roger would show a film.
Tuesday through Friday
he would conduct
a shot by shot
discussion of the film.
To listen to Roger talk
for upwards of five hours
about In Cold Blood,
or The Third Man,
or Vertigo, or Citizen Kane,
he was enlightening
with every new frame.
It was a theatrical experience
of the highest order.
And anybody who wanted to,
at any moment,
could yell out, "Stop,"
to ask a question
or make a statement.
Look at that.
Every year we find
something absolutely amazing,
totally amazing in the films.
It's not there, but we find it.
There was a limit to Roger's
democratizing of film criticism.
A student asked,
"Who do you think you are
that you get to have
all these opinions?
I saw Porky's
and I think Porky's is great,
so why don't I get to talk about it?"
And Roger said,
"I have two things to say.
First, Marshall Field,
who owns the Chicago Sun-Times,
appointed me film critic...
that's who I am."
And he said,
"My other thing is a question.
Would you wanna listen to you?"
After the year that Roger came
and worked with a voice synthesizer,
he decided not to come again.
He said it was too hard.
I won't return
to the conference.
It is fueled by speech,
and I am out of gas.
But I went there
for my adult lifetime,
and had a hell of a good time.
The move is taking place,
and they are loading up
the medical car
to take us over to RIC.
Will you send an email
for me, please?
Come in.
Is there a special back elevator
that we go down here or?
Well, actually, yeah.
Because the last time
we took him from this hospital,
we had to push the chair
past the morgue.
And we got lost down there.
He's excited because he gets
to see a movie he wants to see.
It should be coming over
later today.
So he's happy about that.
I'm glad we don't have
to go under that...
the underground anymore.
Past the morgue.
We're not ready for it!
You've been working away, huh?
You have a lot of writing to do.
I was hoping you could see
at least one of them
on a big screen.
When he was
in the hospital before,
we took a semi-not sanctioned
trip out of the hospital.
Bundled him up
and took him to the movies.
But I don't know if... I don't think
the doctor will let you out.
Chaz is a strong woman.
I never met anyone like her.
I think it'll be easier.
You can...
She is the love of my life.
Just wanna make sure
that you don't get cold.
She saved me from the fate
of living out my life alone,
which is where
I seemed to be heading.
The first time he actually
saw me was at an AA meeting.
And it's the first time
I've ever said it publicly.
Roger became very public about his...
but I felt that it was,
you know, more private for me.
If it doesn't fit,
you must acquit.
Roger weighed 300 pounds
when we first started dating.
He didn't care that he was fat.
He thought he was great.
And that was so sexy.
I take it this is not yours.
If my cancer had come,
and Chaz had not been there with me,
I can imagine a descent
into lonely decrepitude.
That I am still active,
going places,
is directly because of her.
My instinct was to guard myself.
I could never again be
on television as I once was.
She said, "Yes, but people
are interested
in what you have to say,
not in how you say it."
With Roger now headed
for at least
a couple of weeks of rehab,
he suggested I email him
questions in advance
of our major interview
when he gets back home.
I sent him the first third
of nine pages of questions.
He emailed me back.
- Hello.
- Hi, how are you?
Welcome to RIC. My name's Jackie
and we're going to go in this room.
- Okay.
- How are you?
I am politically my father's child,
and emotionally more my mother's.
My mother supported me as if
I was the local sports team.
But she was fatalistic.
She was permanently scarred
by the Depression,
and constantly predicted she would
end up in the county poor home.
My parents so strongly
encouraged my schoolwork.
We even took
a third paper at home,
the Chicago Daily News,
for me to read.
When I stood
in the kitchen door,
and used a sentence
with a new word in it,
they would look up
from their coffee and cigarettes
and actually applaud me.
This is the memorable occasion
that Roger was given
the Pulitzer Prize.
Usually, when somebody
won a Pulitzer Prize,
it was, "Who is he to win
a Pulitzer?", you know.
"Yeah, I'll go
congratulate him, yeah."
But for Roger,
there was real joy.
You know, it was our Roger.
One of us.
The only Pulitzer Prize,
for years and years,
ever given to a movie critic.
Roger wrote his movie reviews
as if he were sitting
in the 15th row,
taking notes with one hand
and eating popcorn with the other.
But he didn't simplify things.
It envelops us in a red membrane
of passion and fear.
And in some way that
I do not fully understand,
it employs taboos and ancient
superstitions to make its effect.
I think the way
that he writes,
that sort of clear, plain,
Midwestern newspaper style,
conveys enormous intelligence,
encyclopedic learning,
but doesn't condescend,
doesn't pander.
Roger would become the definitive
mainstream film critic
in American letters.
He made it possible
for a bigger audience,
a wider audience to appreciate
cinema as an art form.
Because he really loved it.
Really, really loved films,
and he did not get caught up
in certain ideologies
about what cinema should be.
After he won the Pulitzer,
if he had a mind
to go to The New York Times,
he could've done that,
The Boston Globe,
The LA Times, no problem.
Ben Bradley, editor
of The Washington Post,
of Watergate fame,
went after Roger hard.
Offered him the sun and the moon.
Ebert just kept saying no.
He said, "I'm not gonna
learn new streets..."
...which is very Ebert-like.
The Sun-Times
went through rough times.
So many regimes.
The Murdoch era
which had crashed the paper.
So many people left.
And Roger remained steadfast.
I remember Roger saying,
"I'm not gonna run away."
- Right.
- These are my colleagues
and not everybody
can get another job.
If someone went across the street
for a job, they were selling out.
You didn't even say
the Tribune.
You'd just say
went across the street.
It was a huge clash
in political difference
between the Sun-Times
and the Tribune.
We were a working class paper.
And we reached
the black community.
The Tribune was
a very wealthy paper.
I mean, look at the Tribune tower.
This huge gothic structure
studded at its base
with all the great art works
of the world.
You know, here is part
of the pyramid of Giza.
And you're thinking, what?
Did the Tribune guy go out with
a chisel and steal this thing?
From the day
the Chicago Tribune
made Gene Siskel
its film critic,
we were professional enemies.
For the first five years
we knew one another,
Siskel and I hardly spoke.
When Gene and I were asked
to work together on a TV show,
we both said we'd
rather do it with someone else.
Anyone else.
The name of our show is Opening
Soon at a Theatre Near You,
two film critics
talking about the movies.
And this is Roger Ebert
from the Chicago Sun-Times.
And right over here
is Gene Siskel
from the Chicago Tribune
and Channel 2 news.
Gene and Roger
were sitting kind of pinioned,
in director's chairs,
looking into the camera
very seriously,
talking about the movie.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
just had the audience
tearing up the seats with joy.
Yeah, and also, tearing up a little
my enjoyment of the film.
They were applauding
even during the credits...
It was stiff, and wooden.
But when Foreman backs up and tries
to make his big points
about the establishment
and authority...
But there was
something there.
It was interesting
to hear two people
who knew what they were talking
about, talk about a movie.
Bremen Freedom
by Rainer Werner Fassbinder,
one of the new generation
of West German directors...
Roger loved the idea of
being on public television.
He had been on it before
on a show where he introduced
films by Ingmar Bergman.
It was awful.
And in this movie
his name is Spegel,
which is Swedish for "mirror."
It was a deer caught
in the headlights.
What is real
and what is illusion,
and who's being fooled
by the art?
Is it the artist,
or his audience, or both?
And the movie's ending,
a confrontation
with the heavyweight champion
of the world...
Roger needed to learn
how to write for television.
...emotionally fulfilling scenes
I've seen in a long time.
To keep sentences short.
He would get irritated
and he would say,
"Thea, I have a Pulitzer Prize."
And I would say to him,
"Roger, I know that,
but that doesn't mean you know
how to write for television."
And right through that last scene
I was really loving Taxi Driver,
because up until that point,
the relationship between
De Niro and Cybill Shepherd
has been electric...
Gene was a natural.
He was one of these people,
he could talk to the camera.
He had a huge
handlebar mustache.
And so I just said,
"That is a funny looking thing
on your face, get rid of it."
I thought, these two guys
would never be on television.
These are unusual,
odd-looking characters
for the medium, TV,
that's all beautifully quaffed,
and beautiful teeth,
and everything's fine.
And they dressed
like a couple of clowns
if they wore
these outfits today.
You couldn't make Siskel and Ebert
if you were Dr. Frankenstein.
I think in the beginning
it was very difficult.
Gene sat in the back row,
Roger had his favorite seat.
They left without saying
a word to one another.
We both thought of ourselves
as full service,
one-stop film critics.
We didn't see why
the other one was necessary.
Alone together in an elevator,
we would study the numbers
changing above the door.
Their lifestyles couldn't have
been more different.
Roger was single.
He was an only child.
Gene, in childhood,
lost both his parents,
one after the other.
He was a philosophy major
at Yale.
While Roger was, you know,
one of the good old boy
news reporters.
Gene just was more of a...
for lack of a better word,
elegant character.
He caught the eye of Hugh Hefner,
and he was adopted
by the clan at the mansion.
And he traveled with Hefner
in the Bunny Jet.
Even though Roger wrote
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,
I think Gene lived the life
for a while.
The perfect matching
of opposites, Siskel and Ebert,
Laurel and Hardy,
Oscar and Felix,
really made Sneak Previews
a sitcom about two guys
who lived in a movie theater.
And how Roger and I go to the movies
as critics is the subject
of this special take two program
on Sneak Previews.
- Hi, Gene.
- Hi, Roger.
In every theater I have
a favorite seat I like to sit in.
In the last row,
sort of off to the side.
Not just kind of reading
or speaking criticism,
but acting out these roles.
I always choose a seat
that's twice as far back
from the screen
as the screen is wide.
Then you must make
a friend of horror.
Horror and moral terror.
I think we can
save ourselves a lot of time
if I admit to you right now
that although I think
the last half hour works,
I doubt if I can ever
convince you of that,
and that the first
two hours of the film
consist of some of the most
beautiful, heartbreaking, tragic,
memorable footage of war
that I've ever seen.
I think that you can show almost
anything to do with Vietnam,
and people feel,
"Oh, my God, the human waste."
That may be true,
but this movie is made
on such an epic scale.
And because
they could get agitated,
that raised the temperature of
the movies they were discussing.
Tremendously boring,
boring from the beginning
of the movie.
- I just wanna compare this film...
- Oh, no. Wait a minute.
- Now he's not boring at all.
- Oh, yes. Fabulously boring.
- He is fabulously boring?
- I would pass...
There was something almost
transgressive and exciting
about seeing on TV
somebody say about a movie,
you know what you might always
want to say to your friend,
or your girlfriend
or your mother or your sister,
"No, you're wrong.
It's not a good movie."
That's the way
people do relate to films,
is in that argumentative
sort of way,
in which if you're right nobody
can tell you that you're wrong.
I sit at the desk next to our
music critic at the Sun-Times.
People are very worshipful of him.
"Oh, what did you think about
Shulty's conducting last night?"
And then he will say, and they
will nod like this and go away.
And then they'll turn around
and come up to me and say,
"I totally disagree with your review
in this morning's paper."
The success of the show
was undeniable,
except we were not on
in two major markets:
New York and Los Angeles.
Here I am
at the little popcorn shop
a half a block from the screening
room where I see all the movies.
This is the Chicago Theater
on State Street.
Their position was,
if there's gonna be a movie show,
it's not gonna be
two guys from Chicago.
We're gonna have New York critics,
or we're Hollywood.
Who are these guys, right?
This is not Andrew Sarris,
and Pauline Kael.
And it's also not
the kind of, the wised up players
who might be in Los Angeles.
What do these people
have to tell us about movies?
The arrival of Pauline Kael
on the scene shook everything up.
The New Yorker recognized that
maybe this was the time for
a new kind of movie criticism.
Suddenly movie critics
become new players in the game.
You weren't crazy
about Prince of the City.
No. Prince of the City.
I thought, it really,
as a piece of narrative,
it's almost a case study
in confusion.
Kael's influence shaped
how critics looked at movies...
...and how people read them.
Film was taken seriously
and so were film critics.
Andrew Sarris was promoting
the idea of the director
as the maker of the film,
and Pauline Kael,
elevating film writing,
film criticism as an art.
But these were
towering figures, clashing.
Rather like Siskel and Ebert,
but with more intellectual heft.
Uh-oh, Gene.
This bowser in the balcony
means it's time
for Dog Of The Week.
A regular feature where each of us
picks the week's worst movie.
Well, Roger, you and Spot
may not believe this,
but I have just seen
my first nudie karate film.
- You're kidding.
- No.
Roger once said,
"Do you think Pauline Kael
would be working with a dog?"
I don't know Pauline Kael,
I never knew Pauline Kael.
But fuck Pauline Kael.
Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel
were the most powerful critics
of all time.
In any realm.
Finally, they had to cave in
and run the show
in New York and L.A.
It was a victory we relished,
I have to tell you.
Here to help us sort
the blockbusters from the bombs
are the team At the Movies,
Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.
You guys live in Chicago still,
down there in Oprah-land?
What I'd like to do
is come to Chicago one night
and we'll just go nuts.
We'll just get stinking drunk.
We'll go out
and eat steaks all night.
My next two guests are
regarded as the most popular
and most important film critics
in the country.
They are the two most influential
movie critics in the country.
Is there anybody more popular?
We'll find out and ask them.
And ultimately,
I think they were
on the Johnny Carson Show
more than just about anybody.
Is there something out there
that is really so bad?
I can't really recommend
Three Amigos.
It's the Christmas picture
I like the least.
- This is the happy hour.
- Yes.
I don't think I'd ask you if
I knew you were gonna say that.
Chevy Chase has made
a lot of good movies,
and God willing, he will make a lot
more good movies in the future.
- With your help.
- Yes, well, I...
Yes, with your help.
There is a tendency
for somebody...
...who is naturally funny,
as Chevy is,
to try to get laughs
by standing there
and ad-libbing
when somebody else
is trying to talk.
That's right.
The movie studios
went from helping us...
to hating us, to fearing us.
The circulations of all
of the newspaper critics,
and all of the magazines,
could not match
the reach of the show
at its height.
It became quite clear
very often
that the film companies cared a lot
about Roger and Gene seeing it,
but not so much
about the rest of us.
Two thumbs up became
everything for a Hollywood movie.
Back when moviemakers
still thought
critics' enthusiasm
could sell a movie.
In 1991,
Richard Corliss published
a piece in Film Comment
about how the show
was ruining and vulgarizing
film criticism.
"Will anyone
read this story?
It has too many words
and not enough pictures.
Does anyone read this magazine?
Every article in it wants
to be a meal, not a McNugget.
Is anyone reading film criticism?
It lacks punch,
the clips, the thumbs.
I simply don't want people to think
that what they have to do on TV
is what I am supposed
to do in print.
I don't want junk food to be
the only cuisine at the banquet."
Yeah, etcetera.
Uh... I really did sound angry there,
but it seemed to me that
the Siskel-Ebert effect
was that a film
was either good or bad
and the rest
didn't matter so much.
I am the first
to agree with Corliss
that the Siskel and Ebert program
is not in depth film criticism.
As indeed, how could it be,
given our time constraints.
But we would have to do it
for our own amusement
because nobody would play it
on television.
The program's purpose
is to provide
exactly what Corliss
says it provides:
information on what's new
at the movies, who's in it,
and whether the critic thinks
it's any good or not.
If you're talking about
film criticism in a serious way,
consumer advice is not
the same thing as criticism.
To assume that something
is good for everybody,
or bad for everybody
is insulting to everybody.
The subject of Crash
left me feeling empty.
Crash has some
beautiful bodies on view,
but also some ugly ideas.
The car crash is a fertilizing
rather than a destructive event.
When we have
an opinion about a movie,
that opinion may light
a bulb over the head
of an ambitious youth
who then understands
that people can make up
their own minds about the movies.
I think I liked the movie
a lot more than you did.
I'd like to make it clear
that most people are probably
going to hate it, be repelled
by it or walk out of it,
just as they did at
the Cannes Film Festival.
- Why is that?
- Because it's too tough to take.
The reason Roger loved
being on television
is that at his heart,
he really is a populist.
Roger believes that everybody
ought to be able to get a movie.
I think they were conscientious
about trying to
do what they were doing
as well as they could,
and as seriously as they could.
But invariably, a show
like Gene and Roger's show
becomes a part of
that mainstream system.
This week,
Siskel and Ebert review
Arnold Schwarzenegger
in Last Action Hero.
And by and large,
the purpose of mainstream reviewing
is not just to valorize films
that get multi-million dollar
ad campaigns.
... Jurassic Park.
But to eliminate everything else.
I think what Gene and Roger did
was the opposite of that.
Roger went out and he looked
for people like Michael Moore.
He looked for people like me.
As a film critic,
he was somebody
who gave life to new voices,
gave life to new visions,
that reflected all the diversity
of this nation.
Different classes,
points of view,
he wanted it all out there.
My assurance to the pet owner
that they will be
reunited with their pet.
My first film, Gates of Heaven.
There was a newspaper strike.
And so the movie wasn't reviewed
by any of the New York newspapers,
which is a disaster.
I miss that little black kitten
so much.
I just thought, that's it,
the movie's just going to vanish.
Both of them wanted
to review it.
I was troubled
because the number of theaters
in which it was playing
was extremely small,
and here you have a show
that's being shown
on 300 some-odd public television
stations around the country.
How are people gonna get to see it?
Let's move on to a movie now
that I think is one of the most
brilliant, weird, and unusual
American documentary films
I've seen in a long time.
And then
really out of nowhere,
those guys started reviewing
Gates of Heaven.
Well, I agree with you completely.
I think it's a superb film.
Then they found an excuse
to review it again.
There are films that
we call "Buried Treasures."
And a third time.
I don't think anyone who's seen
this film can ever forget it.
I believe that I would not
really have a career
if not for those guys.
I made my first film.
I kind of made it alone.
I didn't know anyone
in the industry.
I don't even know
how I got Roger's email,
but I emailed, assuming
no one would answer.
And he answered. And he said,
"If your film gets into Sundance,"
tell me and I would
watch it there."
So then later,
the film did go to Sundance,
and I emailed him again,
and he said,
"Yes, I'll come to see it." I said,
"Here are the three times."
He didn't come
to the first screening,
he didn't come
to the second screening,
and the last screening
was a Sunday morning, I think,
8:00 a.m., on the last day
of the festival.
I said he's
probably not even here.
In fact, he was one of
the first people there.
And I was there
with my actor, and he said,
"Do you mind
if I take some pictures
with you and your actor,
just in case I like the film?
If I don't like it, don't worry,
I'll never use them."
I was, I think, I was maybe
eight or nine or something,
and my Aunt Denise,
who was a massive film geek,
who passed
her film geekdom onto me,
found out about
these rehearsals for the Oscars,
and one day
he walked through.
And I remember saying,
"Thumbs up! Thumbs up!"
screaming, screaming,
and he came over.
I grew up.
I made this film
when I was 34 years old.
It was the first film
I ever made.
You're second generation.
Joshua Tree generation.
The film
was about my aunt,
my aunt who took me
to the Oscar's that day.
Nothing wrong with that.
And about
losing someone that you love.
And it was Ebert's review
that really got to the heart
of what I was trying
to articulate.
And just touched me so much,
that I sent him
the picture from the Oscar's.
His reply was,
"We were both younger then."
The next day,
a blog post turned up
where he wrote,
in a very heartfelt way,
about his own aunt
who kind of gave him the gift
of art and film as well.
You know, I broke down crying,
and it was a mess.
It's dangerous as a black woman
to give something that you've made
from your point of view,
very steeped in your identity
and your personhood
to a white man whose gaze
is usually the exact opposite,
and to say, you are the carrier
of this film to the public.
You're the one that's gonna
dictate whether it has value.
And you had a lot less fears
around that with Roger.
Because you knew it was someone
who was gonna take it seriously,
gonna come with
some historical context,
some cultural nuance.
I mean, everybody knows
Roger had a black wife.
You know what I mean?
You know.
He's like an honorary brother.
I mean, you live with a sister.
That's a whole different
understanding of black women, right?
So maybe you watch
my film differently.
Every time I see him, I'll walk away
with something new, you know.
And every time I sit down
at the table to do the work,
I think about him,
because what if something happens
and I don't get to see him again.
It was just a few days
before Christmas.
I said, "Well, Chaz,
can I come there?"
- So...
- Merry Christmas.
Come on over and say hi.
How are you?
Good to see you.
What are you doing in here?
Chaz is missing you at home,
you gotta get out.
Oh, I like the glasses.
Get off the road...
It was nice to see him
interacting with his grandkids.
Grandpa Roger, do you think...
I know that he must be
in pain physically,
but he ends up being
the happiest guy around.
- From the Christmas stocking.
- From Santa.
From Santa.
I just remember being so young,
and watching for the first time
so many movies
and him sort of explaining
to me, you know,
what's important about this one,
or this is a really great movie.
Ever heard of this film?
This movie begins
with seven children
who are seven,
and check in on them
every seven years
of their lives.
Are they 56 now? Really?
Oh, my gosh, wow.
All the great conversations
and things that he taught me
about movies and life
and family and books,
and you know,
all this stuff, I just...
Those experiences
mean a lot to me.
There's another
chocolate bar, chocolate bars.
So I spoke to Werner,
I said I was coming to see you,
and he sends his regards,
and he says
you have to keep writing
because he's very worried
about cinema.
Can you say it the way
Werner would say it?
Oh, gosh. No.
- Roger...
- Roger you must get better.
You must soldier on, Roger.
Really bad shape.
He's the soldier of cinema.
He's a wounded comrade
who cannot even speak anymore,
and he plows on,
and that touches my heart
very deeply.
I never dedicate films
to anyone.
I dedicated a film to him
where I ventured out
to the last corner
of this planet...
to Antarctica,
to the ice.
And from there I bow my head
in his direction.
He reinforces my courage.
One time,
I went to see Roger.
He was kind of eager and
bouncing to give me something.
He gave me this letter,
actually from Laura Dern.
"Dear Roger,
I want you to know
that your generosity
and expertise
at the Sundance Tribute
meant the world to me.
I've tried to come up with
an appropriate way to thank you.
This box and its contents,
a jigsaw puzzle,
I have treasured for some time.
It was given to me
by the Strasberg family
when Lee Strasberg
passed away.
It was Marilyn Monroe's,
who collected puzzles,
and it had been given to her
by Alfred Hitchcock.
That night at Sundance
you inspired me
about film and contribution
and I wanted to pass along
film and connection in some way.
Thank you again.
Love to you and Chaz.
And then Roger gave me this gift,
which I refused.
I said, "You cannot
give me this gift.
I cannot accept this gift."
And then he said,
"You're going to accept the gift,
because you have to one day
give this
to somebody else
who deserves it."
What's it a jigsaw puzzle of?
I've always
been terrified to make it.
I mean, this is
the jigsaw puzzle
that Alfred Hitchcock
gave Marilyn Monroe.
In the autumn of 1967,
I saw a movie named I Call First,
later to be retitled,
Who's That Knocking at My Door.
The energy of the cutting grabbed me.
It was the work
of a natural director.
I wrote a review
suggesting in 10 years
he would become
the American Fellini.
I said, "You think it's gonna take
that long?", and I was serious.
I'm just like, it's over here.
What are you talking about?
It was the first
real strong encouragement.
Yes, there are defects
in the movie.
But he saw something special
and that had to be nourished.
As you know, I carried your review
around with me
when I was in Europe in 1968.
It made me...
I kept reading. Is that really
about me? You know, wow.
So refreshing to find
a director and an actor
working right
at the top of their form.
I think Raging Bull is one of the
great American pictures of the year.
His greatest film is
an act of self-redemption.
In the period before it,
he'd become addicted to cocaine
and told me that after an overdose,
he was pronounced dead
in an emergency room
and resuscitated.
During the '80s was extremely...
I was gone, basically.
Broke, and I'd gone through
some bad, bad periods.
My third marriage had broken up,
and I was basically alone.
The only thing that saved me
or made me want to...
continue just like living,
in a way, was my agent called
and said, "You know, there's
this festival up in Toronto."
I said, "Yeah."
"Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel,
they wanna give you this tribute."
I was kind of scared.
Could I walk down
this theater aisle
and go up on a stage,
knowing who I am?
But I knew
that they believed in me,
and I have that in my house now,
in a special place
where only I can see it,
that I pass by every maybe,
five to six minutes, I see it.
But that night changed it.
And I started
my life again, you know.
It was...
I didn't feel inhibited with Roger.
He was that close.
Roger has, unlike just about
any of the rest of us,
arrived at this point
where he is
kind of the peer of the people,
of some of the people
that he writes about.
It's very complicated,
I think, when you have
personal relationships and
friendships with these people,
because it cannot
but cloud your judgment.
I am infinitely corruptible.
I do not want to get to know
these people as people.
I want to think of them
as fictional characters.
I mean,
my obligation is to write
what I think about a movie,
and not to worry
about someone I know
perching on my shoulder saying,
"No, I wouldn't say that."
When you look
at the nineteenth century
and the great critics in music,
they hung together,
critics and artists.
They were in the same circles.
And that helped the critics
and it helped the composers.
Roger brought back that concept
and he was criticized for it.
That was real
distracting for me there,
the way all those pool balls
bounced around like that,
and the scene gets
even worse as it goes on.
And it's all the more disappointing
because The Color of Money
was directed by Martin Scorsese,
who is one of the two or three
best movie directors around today.
It doesn't have the interior energy,
and the drive,
and the obsession of most
of the best Scorsese films.
- The script isn't good.
- It's just a standard,
sort of predictable narrative.
I said, I know, but beautiful...
Michael Ballhouse, Paul Newman.
But you know,
they wouldn't accept it.
That was a way
of condemning and helping.
In other words,
you've done this now, once,
you may have done it twice,
but watch yourself.
As opposed to
toxic, poisonous, unkind,
ungenerous, lack of charity,
on so many others.
I think he was a tougher critic
when he was younger.
He could be really cutting,
and relentless,
and ruthless, and sarcastic.
You motherfucker!
Not a bad movie,
but it's not original,
- and it's not a masterpiece.
- I think it's very original
and very close
to being a masterpiece.
I have never felt a kill
in a movie quite like that.
Not in Apocalypse Now,
not in The Deer Hunter?
No, not like that.
Not like that.
In that case, you're
gonna love the late show
because they have kills
like that every night
in black and white
starring John Wayne.
They would get
into their cross talk.
The camera would stop,
they would still be at it.
And I disagree particularly
about the part that you like.
They truly felt it
in their soul.
They could still show them
the error of their ways,
the folly of their thinking.
Benji the Hunted exhausted me.
This is the first time
I wanted to tell a dog
to slow down and stop
to smell the flowers.
I don't know, Gene.
Your review is the typical sort of
blas, sophisticated,
cynical review...
I'll take the word "sophisticated."
...I would expect from an adult.
You're wrapping yourself
in the flag of children.
You're wrapping yourself in the flag
of the sophisticated film critic.
- No, boredom.
- You've seen it all.
Boredom with Benji running.
I don't think that any child
is gonna be bored by this movie.
It was not you know,
gentlemanly, it was not,
"Well, I see
you have a good point."
It was I'm gonna crush you.
And this is the show where
you give Benji The Hunted
a positive review
and not Kubrick's film?
Now, Gene, that's totally unfair,
because you realize that
these reviews are relative.
Benji the Hunted is not
one-tenth the film...
- Roger...
...that the Kubrick film is
but you know that you
review films within context.
And you know it, and you
should be ashamed of yourself.
- No, I'm not.
- Now let's take another look...
They almost didn't care what
anyone else thought about anything,
as long as they could try
to persuade the other.
And I'm not talking about just,
about movie reviews.
I'm talking about anything in life,
the tie you're wearing,
what you think of that person,
a book, a restaurant.
When there was, and when
wasn't there disagreement,
the coin of the realm
was the quarter.
It's hard to think of anything
that wasn't decided
by a coin toss.
Were we going to get tuna fish
sandwiches for lunch?
Who would get one movie,
who would get another movie.
Who got to sit next
to Johnny Carson on the couch.
They actually wanted us
to change the opening
of the show every week
so that Roger
would be first one week
and Gene would be first
the next week, and we said no.
Why is the show
Siskel and Ebert?
And by the way will it ever be
Ebert and Siskel?
You've signed on
to Siskel and...
There's a long story about that.
A long story.
You know, I'm older,
I've been a movie critic longer,
E comes before S
in the alphabet,
I've got the Pulitzer Prize,
and yet it's called
Siskel and Ebert.
And if you wanna know why
that is, you can ask Siskel.
A flip of the coin.
Gene Siskel was among
the most competitive people
on the face of this planet.
But Roger always
could lord it over Gene
that he had a Pulitzer Prize.
Roger was a bit of a braggadocio.
He was a great raconteur.
But frankly,
he was full of himself.
Roger was a bit
of a control freak.
He could not direct Gene Siskel.
He was a rogue planet
in Roger's solar system.
Gene was a source
of madness in Roger's life.
Roger is an only child.
He was used to getting his way.
And he could be a real big baby
when he didn't get
what he wanted.
Gene, on the other hand,
would just go in there
and pummel you
until you agree with him,
until you just say,
"All right, Gene!
Okay, you're right.
Got it."
It wasn't a game with him.
He saw something,
he wanted it to happen.
He made it happen.
Gene was very good
at reading Roger's date book
upside down.
As soon as he saw L.A.
and the date,
he knew what films
were coming out.
He knew what big star
that Roger would be
going out to interview.
And that's all it took
for him to make sure
that he got the interview
before Roger got it.
Fumes you could almost see coming
out of Roger's head, you know.
Gene had done him in again,
that wascally wabbit.
who was the picture
of equanimity
for most of his life,
did all of a sudden, produce a
petulance that I hadn't seen before.
I thought this movie was awful.
- Oh, no, Roger.
- Dreadful, terrible,
stupid, idiotic...
- No, no.
...unfunny, labored...
...forced, painful, bad.
- Oh, Roger, Roger.
What happened
to your sense of humor?
I don't think Roger was,
by nature, a fighter.
But it's like,
if you have a brother
who likes to fight all the time,
so then you learn how to fight.
And Gene had his number.
Gene knew the buttons
to push and everything else.
They're in
a first class cabin,
Gene's in one of the front rows.
Roger's behind him,
and Gene hears
the same old stories that
he's heard over and over again.
And he's just annoyed.
He writes a little note
and he gives it
to the flight attendant.
Said, "Would you pass this
to Mr. Ebert?"
So Roger gets the note,
and it says, "Dear Mr. Ebert,
we in the cockpit have noticed
that you are on our flight.
Frankly, we both agree more
with you than your partner,
and we would be so honored
if you would join us
in the cockpit
for a bit of the flight."
I mean, Gene knows
that Roger was really excited.
He gets into the aisle,
and Roger was a big guy then,
he just kind of
bounds down the aisle,
and gets ready to knock
on the door of the cabin.
And you know,
the flight attendants
and people are horrified,
and Gene says,
"Dear Mr. Ebert,
we in the cockpit."
And he finally tells Gene Siskel,
you know, "You just hate me.
You just don't like me,"
you know.
I mean, that relationship
was absolutely radioactive.
Two thrillers this week
on Siskel and Ebert.
First, we'll review Michael Caine
and Pierce Brosnan
- in The Fourth Protocol.
- And then, Gene Hackman
and Kevin Costner
star in No Way Out,
and we have a third thriller, too
if you're interested.
What do you mean,
two thrillers?
How about something like this:
It's thriller week
on Siskel and Ebert
and we've got three big ones.
Okay. Ready?
- I guess you're gonna do it.
- We have to rewrite it, don't we?
- No. Let's...
- You can't ad lib, Gene.
Can we for the last week,
and next week we'll do it?
No, every week counts.
You read it then,
you ad-lib it.
I'll do nothing.
Let him do whatever he wants.
It's thriller week
on Siskel and Ebert and the Movies,
and we've got three new ones.
Gotta have energy up
and the movie's out.
- Why don't you read both parts?
- I'd like to.
- I know that.
- Please get your energy up.
It's thriller week
on Siskel and Ebert and the Movies,
and we've got three new ones.
Dennis Quaid in The Big Easy,
Michael Caine
in The Fourth Protocol,
and Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman
in No Way Out.
- Sound a little excited, Gene.
- Sound less excited, Roger.
That's why we're re-doing it
because of what you did.
It's thriller week on
Siskel and Ebert At The Movies.
And we've got three new ones...
It's called And The Movies,
not At The Movies.
And that's why we're
re-doing it this time.
It's thriller week
on Siskel and Ebert and the Movies.
And we've got three new ones.
Dennis Quaid in The Big Easy,
Michael Caine
in The Fourth Protocol,
and Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman
in No Way Out.
That's this week
on Siskel, and Ebert,
And the Movies,
and the asshole.
They were still,
in their hearts,
little boys fighting it out
on the playground
and both of them
expecting to win.
I've been in here
a little more than a month.
Can we stand?
I came in expecting
to repair my walking ability
after the hairline fracture,
but have discovered
that it wasn't that simple.
...two, three, push up.
Bigger step
with that right foot.
Bigger step, Roger.
I can no longer
take good health for granted.
I hate that.
Big step.
- Pardon?
- He's saying no.
Are you okay?
Do you want me to stop?
- That was good.
- That was good.
That was good.
That was good.
I never thought he'd
have to be here again.
He's at the best place...
but it's just overwhelming
to think that
he's been here five times.
If he gave up, then
it would be very difficult.
Do you want
your speakers plugged in?
You know what,
let her suction you first.
Please, Roger.
Can you let
the nurse do that first?
Roger, can we set
this up after?
He loves his music.
Sounds good.
I just stare at him
and say where did
this determination come from?
Roger had an inner core
that was made of steel.
How have you
kept your spirits up?
I've zeroed in on my work.
When I'm seeing a movie,
or writing the review,
that makes me feel good.
You know how they talk
about being in the zone?
When you're doing something
you're good at,
you get in the zone.
It sort of pushes your troubles
to the back of your mind.
You have this
tremendous body of work.
He's been writing for half
of the history of feature films.
And that's just
one slice of the cake.
A novel in weekly installments.
Just like Dickens.
Not quite of that level.
He wrote a book about how
to keep your computer bug-free.
Strolls through London.
A book about
the Cannes Film Festival.
The Cannes Film Festival
is one of those events
like the Super Bowl, Wimbledon,
or the Kentucky Derby
that comes cloaked
in its own legend.
This is Cannes
on the French Riviera,
a fishing village
since Roman times.
And every year
in the month of May,
the population grows
by forty thousand
for the world's
most famous film festival.
It's been called
the world's biggest party.
The town of Cannes
is bursting to the seams
with directors, producers, and stars.
It wouldn't be
a Cannes Film Festival
without a beautiful blonde here
on the terrace of the Carlton Hotel.
Here was this kid
from Southern Illinois
hobnobbing with all of
the international movie stars.
That's me with Robert De Niro.
Yes, your faithful correspondent
is getting
an exclusive interview.
And De Niro was telling me
he's just happy to be here.
He loved that.
He did, and they loved him.
Roger! Roger Ebert!
I always wake up very early
in the morning after I arrive.
I walk down the Rue Flix Faure,
passing the flower sellers,
the fishmongers
unloading iced oysters,
and at particular cafe,
at a particular table,
I order,
in shameful French,
a cafe au lait,
a Perrier, and a croissant.
Such returns are
an important ritual to me.
He stayed at the same frickin'
little hotel in Cannes,
the Splendid, which is a dump.
But he loved it.
I'd go over and see him
at the Splendid,
and he'd say,
"Tomorrow, be here at ten."
And so we go over to the Swedish
Film Institute's hotel suite,
and there's Erland Josephson
the actor lying on the bed,
and he and I talk about
Ingmar Bergman for an hour.
You know, no interview,
no formality.
Just yacking.
If I am lucky,
something extraordinary will
happen to me during this festival.
I will see a film that will make
my spine tingle with its greatness.
And I will
leave the theatre speechless.
It was at Cannes
that I saw Bresson's
precise, unforgiving L'Argent.
A film that was
so cold on its surface,
that I finally realized
that no man could make
such distant and austere films
There are Dantean levels
to this festival.
At the top level
is the official selection,
films chosen
from all over the world.
But down, down, down, down here
in the basement of the Palais,
this is the movie supermarket.
This is where they sell
porno and exploitation
and horror and action
and violence.
You take out ads in Variety
saying we will buy movies
- sight unseen.
- Right.
- Last year, 350 movies.
- How do you sell them?
By the title,
by the foot, by the inch?
By the pound.
Most of us
were writing our stories
after the festival was over.
Roger, anticipating the Internet,
or recalling daily journalism,
was filing stories
all through the festival.
For best film, Kagemusha,
which is the Akira Kurosawa film.
While photographers
are trying to get
pictures of stars at the festival,
would-be stars and hopefuls
are trying to get their pictures
taken by photographers.
In the dreams of the starlet,
there's always that scene where
the cigar-chomping producer
spots a lovely young woman
on the Carlton terrace
and shouts,
"Who is that girl?
I must have her
for my next picture."
So much of what we did
was not me as the producer
saying do this, do that,
do that, was Roger.
He had fabulous ideas.
...topless beaches,
starlets, interviews.
Whenever we were
doing something on the show
that required some creativity...
I don't know why you keep...
that isn't the issue.
It was Gene who
would usually win out that argument,
and Roger would say,
"Well... fine."
The Cannes
Film Festival was only Roger.
He loved that he didn't have
to convince someone else.
Roger had
everything he needed.
Gene was just afraid
that at some point
Roger would go it alone
and quit.
And this
literally haunted Gene.
When the next contract
would come up,
would Roger not be there?
Joe Antelo just sat down
and did the math.
In syndication, we can put
commercials around it.
So he offered Gene and Roger
a tremendous amount of money.
Roger didn't go out
and buy a new car or anything.
He moved out of that
garage apartment he had.
I know that I would hear them
sometimes talk about money,
like "Hey, big boy, did you get
that check in the mail?"
These guys were Siamese twins
joined at the rear end.
And they were gonna make
this thing work.
Gene would say,
and this is as they became
more and more of a team,
"He's an asshole.
But he's my asshole."
This week on
Siskel and Ebert and the Movies,
the science fiction adventure,
Why don't we do that again?
Did you know that for Gene,
speech is a second language?
Roger's first language is,
"Yes, I'll have apple pie
with my order."
He asks the McDonald's girl
if he can have apple pie
with the order,
before they ask him.
And you know what Gene says
when he goes into McDonald's?
Can I have a apple
with thei... with their order?
Okay, ready?
You know they don't get enough shit
basically raw. They don't.
They don't.
They're called yuppies now.
They run the goddamn country,
and all of us, all of our...
I'm speaking to everyone
who's eavesdropping right now.
Come on, band together, people,
let's overthrow the country.
Protestants, people
who sort of want a religion.
- Let's stick together.
- I know...
The Catholics
and the fucking Jews,
we go back a few years together.
Come on, we're real.
We're real.
We get down and get dirty.
- I'll take it.
- We were burning each other
when Martin Luther was only
a gleam in his mother's eye.
I'll take a Bap...
I'll take a Baptist.
I go back 6,000 years.
I mean Ba... Somebody that
has some goddamn passion,
some blood coursing
through their veins.
- Case closed.
- Anything.
Steve Martin's new comedy,
This week on
Siskel and Ebert and the Movies.
You said it a little too fast.
The greatest day for Gene
was when Roger came in
to say that
he was going to get married.
I remember Gene saying to me,
"Can you believe
this is happening?"
He's gonna have a mortgage.
He's gonna have
to buy furniture.
He's gonna have
all the same things
that we do
to have to deal with.
He's gonna need the show.
He'll never leave now.
Chaz was probably
more life-altering
for him than his TV show.
She really, really liked him
for what he was
and not who he was.
She changed
his life immeasurably.
She changed his personality.
Hey, I was eight months pregnant
and Roger
grabbed the cab
in front of me in New York.
It's not that kind of guy now.
I think Gene was so happy
that Roger found his mate.
He was 50 years old
when we got married.
He used to tell me,
"I waited just about
all my life to find you.
And I'm glad I did.
And I'm never
gonna let you go."
I mean...
Our wedding
was like a fairytale.
Gene Siskel's
daughters Kate and Kali,
they were our beautiful
little flower girls.
And Roger's idea of a wedding
was like Father of the Bride,
where the father says,
"Can't you just have the wedding
in the backyard
and put some brats on the grill?"
People who knew me then
would be very surprised
that I would marry
a white man...
because I felt that
African-American men had gotten
such a raw deal
in this society.
In college, I was the head
of the black student union.
I marched with Martin Luther King.
I talked to my mother about it.
"Mom, what do you think
people would say,"
and she said,
"Doesn't matter, doesn't matter.
What do you say?
What does your heart say?"
Chaz and Roger,
you have come together
according to God's wonderful plan...
And as sophisticated
as Roger was,
he didn't know
how his family would take this.
He used to say,
"You know, maybe my Uncle Bill, um...
or my Aunt Mary, you know,
because you're not Catholic."
I said, "Roger, come on,
if we're gonna have this
relationship, we have to be serious.
Not Catholic, or not white?"
He said, "Yeah, probably
some of that too."
After a while though,
his family accepted me
with open arms.
He was on
a lifelong quest for love.
He found romantic love
with Chaz.
Hey, I'm just
about to beat up...
And he loved that family,
her kids and her grandkids.
Hey, you better not
drool on me.
Oh, he fit right in,
I mean, perfectly.
Grandpa Roger.
Grandpa Roger.
Oh, I forgot
what I was gonna say.
There were no strangers
in her family.
- Howdy, cowboy!
- I love and am loved.
Okay, try to get that pole.
And as a member
of another race,
I have, without exception,
been accepted and embraced.
The greatest pleasure
came from annual trips
we made with our grandchildren,
Raven, Emile, and Taylor,
and their parents,
Sonya and Mark,
where we made our way
from Budapest to Prague,
Hawai'i, Los Angeles,
London, Paris,
Venice twice, and Stockholm.
What do you have
to say about the trip?
We are having
a wonderful time,
and right now we're
about to take the garden walk,
which is a great tradition
of all of our vacations
when we go on nature walks.
Emile announced that, for him,
there was no such thing
as getting up too early.
And every morning, the two of us
would meet in the hotel lobby
and go out
for long walks together.
And there are some flowers.
One morning in Budapest,
he asked me to take a photo
of two people walking
ahead of us and holding hands.
"Because they look happy."
Those times seem more precious
now that they're in the past.
I don't walk easily anymore.
Nice job, Roger.
One more step.
I walked everyday in the years
before my troubles,
aiming for 10,000 steps
with a pedometer.
The Caldwell Lily pond
had a special serenity.
I usually had it to myself.
I chose it
as the perfect location
to make a little film
featuring my friend Bill Nack
reciting the last page
of The Great Gatsby,
which he has recited to me
several times annually
since we first met
in the 1960s.
"It's vanished trees,
the trees that had made way
for Gatsby's house,
had once pandered in whispers
to the last and greatest
of all human dreams..."
Every time I see Bill,
I ask him to recite for me,
from memory,
the closing words of Gatsby.
And every time, he does.
"Compelled into
an aesthetic contemplation...
...he neither understood
nor desired.
Face to face
for the last time in history,
with something commensurate
to his capacity for wonder..."
We're both conscious
of the passage of time,
of its flow,
slipping through our fingers,
like a long silk scarf.
I think this was Roger's favorite
passage from all of literature.
It was really a passage
about the American Dream.
You can be anything you want.
You know, Roger went from this
small town kid in Urbana
to this huge national celebrity.
His father was an electrician.
His mother was a housewife.
But I think The Great Gatsby
was also, for Roger, about death.
Death might have
obsessed him a bit.
You know, his father died
fairly young.
I knew he adored him.
There's an inescapable
parallel between us.
Both my father and I have cancer.
My disease may have been started
by childhood radiation treatments
for an ear infection.
I got those
because they loved me.
In my case,
recently discovered tumors
of the spine have metastasized.
The doctor said
it was these tumors
that caused the hip fracture.
Roger emailed me
that sharing the news
of the cancer's return
could anger Chaz.
We don't know.
We haven't really
fully discussed this.
It's so new that we,
we really don't know,
and I'm uncomfortable
talking about it.
Just sort of
taking it a day at a time,
like I do everything else.
So, what do the doctors say?
Six to sixteen months.
It is likely I will have passed
when the film is ready.
We'll see.
The radiation
could do its job so well
that he's around a lot longer.
So we'll have the radiation,
and we'll hope for the best.
I mean, here he is in 2013,
and in 2006,
there were times when they said
he wouldn't be here
the next day, so...
I have no fear of death.
We all die.
I consider my remaining days
to be like money in the bank.
When it is all gone,
I will be repossessed.
When the pain gets
to be unbearable,
I may not be so jolly.
My senior English teacher asked me,
"Ebert, why are you always
writing about death?"
I think it began
in Catholic grade school
where they place so much attention
on mortal sin and dying.
I found it kind of exciting.
I would have been infuriated
if I missed this
because of an accident,
or sudden death.
This is the third act
and it is an experience.
So you see, little Ebert
has always been a macabre sort.
Most people probably
don't know that about him.
Maybe that's why he's jolly,
maybe it's just like, "Okay!"
It makes for a better story.
"Gatsby believed
in the green light
and the orgiastic future that
year by year recedes before us.
It eluded us then,
but that's no matter...
tomorrow we will run faster,
stretch out our arms farther,
and one fine morning
so we beat on.
Boats against the current,
borne back ceaselessly
into the past."
On April 30th, 1998,
Gene was asked to throw out
the first ball of the season
at the White Sox game.
And he had had a headache
for some weeks.
May 8th, he was diagnosed,
terminal brain cancer.
And, um, pretty much...
you don't live more than a year.
But on April 30th,
he threw out a damn good pitch.
He didn't really want
the folks at Disney
to know how sick he was.
He was afraid that if they heard
the words "brain tumor,"
they would put in
a substitute for him,
and that would be the end.
Our mothers knew,
and Gene's siblings,
and my two sisters knew.
That's it.
And Roger didn't know.
And that really wounded Roger.
I don't think it's that he
didn't trust Roger personally.
Nonetheless, when something
like that happens,
you take it personally, how else
is there to take it, you know.
Even though he may have been
a few years older than Gene,
Gene was like
the older brother he never had.
And I was so sad for Roger for not...
Really, for not being able
to tell his brother goodbye.
Gene didn't want to be seen
as a victim.
But more importantly,
he didn't want
to watch the effect
of his dying on his children.
And my children celebrated
many things that year,
and had a happy year,
instead of watching the clock,
which they would've done.
He wanted to do
just what he was doing.
He wanted to be with his family,
and go back to work.
Our next film
is Meet the Deedles.
And boy, is this
an annoying experience.
To the point that from now on,
for the rest of my life,
I may have a negative physical
reaction to hearing the word...
Well, it's the title word
in the film.
- Deedles?
- Oh. Roger, don't.
Toward the end, I said,
"We should go see him."
And we were gonna go
and visit him that Monday,
but he passed away
that Saturday.
It was a friendship
that he cherished,
and it was a horrible pain for him.
This year
on Gene's birthday,
Roger tweeted
every hour on the hour
with links to memories high and low.
I was really touched,
and I wrote him a thank you,
and he sent me this response.
"Dear Marlene,
I'm sick and old
and find myself thinking
about Gene more than ever.
My stupid ego and maybe his,
complicated the fact
that I have never met
a smarter or funnier man.
We fought like cats and dogs.
But there were times
often unobserved,
like after a long hotel dinner
we had once in Boston,
when I've never felt closer
to a man."
I think
their relationship evolved.
They grew to respect each other.
And I do believe
they did love each other.
After Gene's funeral,
Roger vowed
that he was never gonna keep
any secrets about his health.
He said, "If anything like this
ever happens to me,
I don't want to hide it,
especially from the people
who mean something to us."
I've been coming
to this conference for 35 years,
and this morning I confessed
that I am a sick person.
About two and a half
or three years ago,
I found a lump under my chin,
and I went to the doctor,
and it turned out to be
associated with thyroid cancer.
He was in the hospital
maybe two days at the most,
ready to get out.
Went back to the show.
He's such an optimist.
And he thought, this was
probably the end of it.
We didn't know that was
just the warm up act.
A few years later,
I went in for a routine scan
to check for any new problems.
The news was not good.
Cancer had been seen
in my right lower jawbone.
Again he had surgery.
We were going home.
We were all packed up and ready
to go home just like today.
Chaz and I
had a Leonard Cohen song
we both really liked
called I'm Your Man.
It's sort of long but I wanted
to play it one last time.
As it was playing,
I had a sudden hemorrhage
of an artery.
The doctors rushed me
into the operating room.
The whole thing had burst.
His neck,
it just was gushing blood.
There was about 15 doctors
standing there.
They were grabbing towels, squeezing
to get the blood stopped, and...
If he hadn't been
playing that song,
we would've been out
of the hospital already.
If that song
had been shorter
and I had left,
I would be dead.
"Probable. Workable."
We are told the next surgery
will not be life threatening.
The perfect ending would be
that I regain
the ability to speak well,
eat and drink,
but I would settle
for drinking coffee
and having milkshakes.
There were
a series of surgeries,
and his plan
was to return to the show,
to return to broadcasting.
It is a major surgery.
Yes, it is.
Is it worth it?
Excuse me.
He's very brave about it,
but I'm not.
I think it's going to be successful
and everything's
gonna turn out fine.
And the first day or two
he looked in the mirror...
he was very pleased
with what he saw.
But just like
all the other surgeries,
there was an infection
and they had to undo everything.
That left him
more debilitated than ever,
and he just decided
no more surgeries.
No more.
Roger's not one
to look back and say,
"Oh, coulda, woulda, shoulda."
But there were times
when he wrote a note that said,
"Kill me."
I mean, I have that note.
"Kill me."
And I said, "No. No."
I told him
that was not an option.
Oh, you want to walk
until there, or you wanna?
But you know, getting
over there, over that bump...
Okay, who's gonna help him stand
to go up to the stairs?
I know he wants
to write instructions.
Do you want the walker?
Yes or no,
do you want the walker? No.
Okay, then let's get...
Yeah, but we have
to get up and get going.
People would say,
"Don't you get tired?"
You have to trust us.
You have to trust that
we know what we're doing.
Yeah, I get tired sometimes.
"Move this chair
so it faces stairs."
You know, no, no, guess what,
it's a few steps.
You can get out of the chair
and you can walk up the stairs.
That's what you've
been practicing every day.
You can do this.
But I never got so tired
that I wanted to give up.
Come on, Uncle Roger.
No, he's not gonna do that.
Let me handle it, please.
I'm gonna pull
the chair out of the way.
There's so many people
out there
taking care of people
who are sick or disabled.
We all go through
the whole gamut of emotions.
Two, three, up...
Okay, now hold.
You know,
it's been a long road.
- I think it's hard.
- All right.
It's always been hard,
but it's even harder now.
He calls her "my angel."
And he means it.
Valentine's Day wreath
I got for you.
This woman
never lost her love.
Now do you want to go upstairs?
She was always there
believing I could do it.
And her love was like a wind
pushing me back from the grave.
And I told him
if you promise me
that you will give it your all,
I promise you
that I will try to make life
as interesting for you as possible...
so that every day,
you have something
to look forward to.
How does it feel
to be back in your own chair?
Today is a big day,
coming home after two months
is very difficult.
It's a joy,
but it's also very stressful.
"Especially for you."
Is that... Are you trying
to be a smart alec?
Are you trying
to be a smart alec?
We have a saying
in the Latino community,
"Make your heart your face."
Oh, now. Aw, okay.
More than anybody
I have ever known,
his heart is his face.
That photograph that was on the cover
of Esquire says it all.
This is me. Right?
And I want you to know
who I am
and what I'm going through.
I may have things
to be depressed about,
but I am not depressed.
My life seems full again.
Here we are full screen.
As we start
to bring the screen size down,
eventually getting
towards iPhone size,
it's gonna drop,
it's gonna break.
And now, look at this...
My attention is focused
on my new website,
which will provide a home
for my life's work
and has an enduring life
of its own.
"Josh, this is beyond
my wildest dreams."
Well, I'm glad.
I like to make you happy.
Roger has been
ahead of the curve,
becoming an early and massive
adopter of social media.
He has almost
800,000 followers on Twitter
and 100,000 followers
on Facebook.
"Nice links to IMDB
and Wikipedia."
If you look at
the other people who have
like 850,000 Twitter followers,
it's like Kardashians.
Beyond the search widget...
Right now, there's
an argument about the Internet.
Some people say
film criticism is at the end,
the art of cinema
is at the end.
Roger sees it
in a much more positive way.
It's a renaissance.
It's a renaissance in film
appreciation and film criticism.
The roving reporters
that he uses,
like on his blog,
for example,
is giving a critical birth
to lots of other points of view.
The passionate fan culture,
or movie geek culture,
that exists on the Internet,
when people are really,
get really, really worked up,
is something that the Siskel
and Ebert show helped to seed.
It follows from Roger's
understanding of criticism,
which is it's
a mode of conversation.
It's the public square.
This is allowing
your fans to access
this database of your reviews
going back to 1967
that has never been available
in this form before.
When I am writing, I am
the same person I always was.
In April 2008, I wrote
my first blog entry,
and began this current, and probably
final stage of my life.
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.
Most people choose to write a blog.
I needed to.
Racism was ingrained
in daily life.
It wasn't the overt racism
of the South,
but more like
the pervading background
against which we lived.
We were here...
I've never held a handgun in my life.
The theory is that
gun ownership makes us safer.
That doesn't seem
to be working out for us.
The body count rises.
He took all of that energy
he put into television,
and he transferred it
to his blog,
and the Internet,
and to his movie reviews,
and wrote better
than he ever had in his life.
Bless these boys.
I don't know when a film
has connected more immediately
with my own personal experience.
That's how you grow up.
Surrounded by the realms
of unimaginable time and space.
We are now seeing
the polymathic genius
that those of us
who knew Roger always saw.
His voice was stilled,
but of course
he's talking more than ever.
In the past 25 years,
I have probably seen
ten thousand movies, and
reviewed six thousand of them.
- She threw them there.
- I understand, but why?
I have forgotten
most of them, I hope.
But I remember
those worth remembering.
And they are on the same shelf
in my mind.
Look at a movie
that a lot of people love...
Match me, Sydney.
and you'll find
something profound...
no matter how silly
the film may seem.
What I miss though,
is the wonder.
Open the pod bay doors, Hal.
People my age can remember
walking into a movie palace...
I'm sorry, Dave.
when the ceiling
was far overhead...
I'm afraid I can't do that.
balconies reached
way into the shadows.
We remember the sound
of a thousand people
laughing all at once,
and screens
the size of billboards,
so every seat in the house
was a good seat.
"I lost it at the movies,"
Pauline Kael said,
and we all knew
just what she meant.
Charles Foster Kane.
Only two days
after he'd returned home,
Roger was readmitted
to the hospital with pneumonia.
Chaz thought this was a brief
if frustrating setback,
and so Roger and I resumed
our email interview
with the plan to film him as soon
as he returned home again.
Roger was energetic
and answered questions
about a variety of subjects.
My favorite places in the city
are the used bookstores.
You can't get me out of one.
Those standard places
with standard menus
and breakfast 24 hours a day.
I asked him about one of
his most controversial reviews
for Blue Velvet,
and his moral indignation
at director David Lynch.
But he asked Isabella Rossellini
in this movie
to be undressed
and humiliated on the screen...
Drama holds a mirror up to life,
but needn't reproduce it.
Attempts to film Roger in
rehab were rebuffed by doctors.
Then suddenly one day his email
output slowed to a trickle.
I'm trying to figure out what
questions would engage you most fully.
Fearing the worst, I called
Chaz. She dissolved into tears.
Roger seemed determined
to give up.
He said he was beginning
to feel trapped inside.
And he said, "You know,
I don't wanna fight this time.
I don't wanna... I don't...
I don't wanna fight cancer."
He said, "I am ready to go.
I've had a beautiful life
and death is a part of life.
And I'm ready to go,
and you must let me go,
you must let me go."
He had signed a DNR,
a do not resuscitate order.
He signed it...
while I wasn't there one day.
And usually we make those kind
of decisions together.
But I think he knew...
that that wouldn't have been
my choice.
And so...
when we realized
that he was leaving
I wanted them to use
the defibrillator.
And they said no.
And short of going over
and taking it
and doing it myself, you know...
And I could've screamed
and made a fuss
and forced them to do it.
But you know what,
something came over me.
Roger calls it a wind of peace
just kind of flowed over me,
and I knew
it was time to accept it.
And accept that he was leaving.
And so...
I put on Dave Brubeck music
in the room.
And I had everyone
just settle down.
I was sitting next to his bed,
holding his left hand,
and other people
held my hand,
and gathered and formed a circle
around and held hands.
Until the doctor...
said that he was going
to call it,
1:40 p.m.
as the time of death.
I have never seen anything
so beautiful
and so serene.
It became... It was
so peaceful in that room.
And he... everything just...
everything just relaxed.
He looked young,
he looked happy,
and those warm hands,
and, you know...
What in the world
is a Leave of Presence?
It means I am not going away.
Forty-six years ago,
I became the film critic
for the Chicago Sun-Times.
However you came to know me,
I'm glad you did,
and thank you
for being the best readers
any film critic could ask for.
He had a heart big enough
to accept and love all.
I have to keep...
He loved this hat,
that's why I wore it today.
I felt that
as long as Roger was alive,
a little bit of Gene was too.
He was the first person I met
who actually walked out
of the television.
Famous people
have died before in Chicago.
Famous writers have died.
But what I thought
marked the stories about Roger
was a genuine affection.
I mean, thousands of people came out
and thousands more
wrote tributes on the Internet,
which are still continuing.
I like to walk down
on Hollywood Boulevard
because I know
it's his star coming.
I set my gaze straight,
I don't look down at the star.
I know it's coming.
Looking straight
at the horizon into the future.
So on this day of reflection,
I say thank you for going on
this journey with me.
I'll see you at the movies.