- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 14 hours and 16 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Hachette Audio
- Audible.com Release Date: September 13, 2011
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English
- ASIN: B005MM7F1S
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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Life Itself: A Memoir Audible – Unabridged
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Top Customer Reviews
The book has a lot in common with the Gunther Grass novel The Tin Drum, as Ebert recalls his early years, then in vivid detail, matinee afternoons with his parents watching the Marx Brothers hit, A Day At The Races, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and one of the first 3D films, Bwana Devil. Early screen heroes were Whip Wilson and Lash LaRue, characters who carried guns but didn't need them because they also carried whips and could slash a pistol from your grip before you could aim it. He remembers the ubiquitous aroma of popcorn, the high movie house ceilings, and girls with rolls of Necco wafers.
Then came college, 1963, the year Dick Butkus and Jim Grabowski led the University of Illinois to the Rose Bowl. "I became friendly with a voluptuous woman under a grey woolen blanket. In the middle of the night, rocking through the midlands, we made free with each other." He had fun, but also vigorous preparation, working for the Daily Illini newspaper with its Associated Press affiliation, spending hours setting hot lead Linotype, and reading the voluminous novels of Thomas Wolfe.
One of Ebert's transcendent skills has always been the interview, and the book is full of them - John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Woody Allen and the enigmatic Igmar Bergman are represented, but the best one takes place with Robert Mitchum. You can hear Mitchum speaking the interview lines, and for a brief time, you are in one of his movies. "I knew him," Mitchum says of Humphrey Bogart. "He and I were good friends. He once said to me: `the thing that makes you and I different from those other guys is, we're funny.'"
Over a lifetime of watching movies, Ebert has reached some conclusions about them. "Movies aren't about what happens to the characters. They're about the example [the characters] set. Casablanca is about people who do the right thing. The Third Man is about people who do the right thing and can't speak to each other as a result. You may need awhile to think about this, but the deep secret of The Silence Of The Lambs is that Hannibal Lecter is a Good Person."
He has mixed feelings about the contemporary movie scene as this passage on page 160 reveals: "When you go to the movies every day, sometimes it seems as if the movies are more mediocre than ever, more craven, more cowardly, more determined to pander to our lowest tastes instead of educating them." He adores black and white films, and offers movie goers this test: "take a picture of your grandparents, probably taken in black and white, and put it next to a picture of your parents probably taken in color. The picture of your grandparents will probably seem timeless, the one of your parents will probably seem goofy."
He ends the book as a man larger than the motion picture industry he critiqued, emerging as someone very much at home with his contribution to film and even more so, to his family. Easily the best book I've read this year.
Cut. Print it.
He's not really telling his stories to inform us or to broaden our knowledge about large and small eating places that he has loved around the world, or the great pals he has accumulated in a very full life. He's not primarily interested in entertaining us or holding our attention, though I think he expects that will happen--and it probably will.
I believe Ebert is telling these stories the way people do in the later years of our lives--as a precious kind of taking stock for ourselves, a summing up (the title of Somerset Maugham's memoirs), a saying of the rosary of our days. Every bead is cherished. The litany of names of pals and what they drank and where they sat and who they out-smarted and how much they loved us and we them--this review and re-telling is as much a part of the so-called third stage of life as learning to talk is of the first stage.
If you know this in advance, then you can sit back and let Roger tell you all the details, and smile and nod in appreciation of the man telling the stories. I skipped a number of chapters--each too long for too little of what I was interested in. Other chapters I read slowly, gleaning every grain I could.
I don't think I could have NOT read this book. Roger Ebert's is the major voice on a subject I've been passionate about for more than seventy years. I advise potential readers of the book to sit back, enjoy, be patient, skip when you feel like it, and realize how lucky we are to have the book and the man.
In this book, Ebert delivers. It is loaded with anecdotes about the people he's come in contact with as a film critic, but it also has a huge amount of heart and is surprisingly revealing in regard to the private person who is also known as Roger Ebert. If Ebert is unsparing in his film criticisms, he is also unsparing when he covers his own life. From growing up in Urbana, IL and attending the home town University of Illinois, he covers his short career covering sports, a fortuitous shot at the Chicago Sun-Times film critic job which established his reputation as a sharp reviewer, a brush with alcoholism, a sometimes adversarial relationship with fellow critic Gene Siskel, a later in life marriage with his soulmate Chaz, and a decimating encounter with cancer which even after several surgeries has robbed him of his ability to speak and eat. For someone who was not only a fluid writer/speaker this was one heck of a challenge.
While getting personal, I found he really seemed to leave nothing out. Be it his complex relationships with women (he had three very serious ones with divorced ladies who coincidentally had children) or his even more complex relationship with his widowed mother Annabel, he apparently left nothing out. From my pov, anyone who writes about themselves are wise to be as honest as possible.
Ebert speaks in detail of the small and big things that have influenced his life and career, meaningful and/or memorable
encounters with the famous, and he remembers with clarity small sensory things that most us take for granted. He is incredibly positive and optimistic given all he has gone through over the past few years. I don't like using the word 'inspirational', but his take on life certainly has made a positive impression on me.
One really mundane thing discussed is his love of Steak and Shake. While the burger emporium has expanded over the country in the past few years, this was a phenomena that was once only available in central Illinois. Ebert loves the place. All the S&S talk made me really hungry.
I've had my share of Ebert spottings through the years as we both live in the same area. He's the local celebrity and he is very recognizable. I've gone to lectures he's given on film. I've read his other books. However, this is the book that will stand out among the others because it is comprehensive, very personal, and enormously interesting because of its wide range of topics and candor. If you have a preconceived notion of who Roger Ebert is, reading this book may very well change your mind.