First aired on Q (20/9/11)
Roger Ebert is arguably the most famous film critic at work today. He has reviewed movies for the Chicago Sun-Times since 1967 and in 1975 became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize. Through his TV shows — most notably At the Movies with Gene Siskel — he helped prove that film criticism can be entertaining, drawing in audiences that would rival the box office of many films.
Thanks to his current blog and and very active Twitter account, Ebert's audience continues to grow as he finds new ways to communicate after losing his ability to speak. Ebert lost this ability in 2006 after complications relating to thyroid cancer. On top of his regular column, Ebert has a new TV show, Ebert Presents: At the Movies, and a recently released book, Life Itself: A Memoir.
He recently sat down with CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi for a feature chat on Q. The interview was recorded while Ebert was in town for the Toronto International Film Festival, which Ebert first started attending in 1977. In place of a speaking voice, Ebert uses his laptop "Alex" and text-to-speech software to speak his answers for him.
When Ebert lost his voice in 2006, he said he was in a very dark place. Losing his voice was previously unthinkable to him. "For all the things that could have gone wrong with me, that was the last one," he said.
He stopped writing and watching movies and spent his days cooped up in bed, until his wife Chaz Hammelsmith brought him a DVD of a new movie she thought he might enjoy. That movie was The Queen, the Oscar-winning film starring Helen Mirren. Ebert found himself writing a review on a yellow legal pad. "Suddenly, I found myself back in business," he said. "Watching movies on DVD and writing about them."
Ebert went back to writing reviews for the Sun-Times, and also launched a blog and signed up for Twitter to get his voice out. "Memories came pouring out of my mind," he said. "There was a new urgency about the act of writing."
It was then that Ebert thought a memoir would be possible, especially after he realized there was a lot to write about outside of the movies. "I was afraid such a book would come down to a series of movie anecdotes and I didn't want to write a movie book," he said.
Life Itself tells the full story of his life and career for the first time: from his childhood in Urbana, Illinois, to his post as a reporter at his local daily, and to Chicago and the film critic position that changed his life. In his memoir, Ebert chronicles his brush with alcoholism, his marriage, his beliefs and the cast of characters he has met along the way.
Ebert has always considered himself a writer first and this is something that means even more to him now. "Now that I can't speak, writing gives me a voice and an outlet," he said. "It absorbs me, it allows me to feel useful. It saved me from becoming trapped within myself."
To follow Ebert's writing, pick up Life Itself, visit his blog, or follow him on Twitter.
Life Itself: A Memoir
by Roger Ebert
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From Grand Central Publishing:
"This is a story that only Roger Ebert could tell. Filled with the same deep insight, dry wit, and sharp observations that his readers have long cherished, this is more than a memoir — it is a singular, warm-hearted, inspiring look at life itself."
Read more at Grand Central Publishing