Life Itself director Steve James on Roger Ebert's legacy

Director Steve James on his new film, Life Itself, based on movie critic Roger Ebert's 2011 memoir.
Director  Steve James joins guest host Piya Chattopadhyay to discuss  Life Itself, his new documentary based on Roger Ebert's 2011 memoir by the same name. 

  James (  Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters) comments on the film critic's famously prickly relationship with Gene Siskel, how he reinvented himself following key events -- like his co-reviewer's death and his own cancer diagnosis -- and the sensibilities that ultimately made Ebert one of the most iconic reviewers of all time. 

  "He carried that kind of engagement with the world, not just with movies, forward in his life in every respect," says James. "He would often use the movie reviews not as a soap box to talk politics, but to engage the world in the way in the movies should engage the world."

A glimpse at Life Itself

James says that the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic truly welcomed an honest, warts-and-all portrayal of his story. 

    "That's what he prized as a film critic and as a journalist -- because he was at heart, a journalist," says James. "He felt like, 'Well if I'm going to be a subject of a film, then I can't have a different standard.'" 
James also notes that film criticism's famous odd couple were much more than an act. Siskel and Ebert looked at film, indeed life, in fundamentally different ways.   
    "This relationship was a roller-coaster throughout, and that I do think it evolved to one of much more mutual respect and love, but it was always complicated. It was complicated to the end." 
These Siskel & Ebert outtakes from the 1980s offer an uncensored look at their dynamic. Warning: the clips contain strong language.