ROGER EBERT: LIFE ITSELF

FROM THE CANADIAN PRESS

ROGER EBERT is a fixture at the TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL…and this year is no exception.

Not only is the PULITZER PRIZE winning movie critic planning to squeeze in 15 to 20 screenings, he’s also promoting a new memoir LIFE ITSELF, which hit stores Tuesday. ROGER is scheduled to sign copies Wednesday at a downtown INDIGO BOOKS and on Friday at THEATRE BOOKS.

After a bout with thyroid cancer, ROGER no longer has the ability to speak. He remains a prolific writer, however…and a voracious user of social media. THE CANADIAN PRESS emailed ROGER a list of questions about his new book.

Here are the responses…

CANADIAN PRESS: In the book, you recall some of the things you’ve done and the places you’ve been with incredible accuracy. You say that when you were ill and bed ridden, you started walking around London “in your mind,” picturing the streets you’d turn down and the roast turkey and peaches you’d order during such an outing. Was that process part of why you wrote this book and how did it jog your memory?

ROGER EBERT: Not being able to speak, I found myself stuck inside my memories and I was surprised how many and vivid they were. Before I got sick, I was much more outer directed and didn’t realize how much stuff was squirrelled away in there.

CP: You paint some very vivid pictures — from an exact description of how your beloved STEAK & SHAKE burgers are made, to what it was like to work in a newsroom in the 60s and 70s. It sounds like it must have been a lot of fun revisiting some of the things you’ve done — can you talk a bit about your writing process, including how you decided what to leave in and take out?

RE: There could have been a great deal more about movies, but I didn’t want to write a movie book. I was more interested in the mysteries of life, especially after cancer changed my life so dramatically and forced me to confront my mortality.

CP: Can you talk a bit about the way you pieced this together — did you work from journals? Interviews with family members?

RE: I worked entirely between my head and the keyboard. No journals. Some old family photo albums helped a little and many of those photos are in the book. Basically I wanted to explore a midwestern boyhood and the unexpected paths it found.

CP: You also write about some of the amazing places you’ve visited and your compulsion to return to the same spots, the exact cafe, even the exact table. Your wife CHAZ calls it “touching your bases.” You say it’s a way to “measure the wheel of the years.” Can you elaborate on that?

RE: I sit in a particular cafe or sprawl on the grass in a particular park or read a newspaper in a particular greasy spoon and say, “I’ve done this before. I’m doing it now. I will do it again.” It was pretending immortality. Now I’ve touched a lot of those bases for the last time. After one of our vacations in London, a friend asked CHAZ, “What did you see?” She said, “We saw the places Roger saw on his previous trips to London.” She used to joke that it was hard to get me to do something the first time and then impossible to get me to stop doing it.

CP: You didn’t set out to be a movie reviewer. You wanted to be an op ed columnist and then a novelist. You say in the book that your 1967 reviews are written in much the same style as today. Why do you think your style hasn’t changed?

RE: I always write subjectively, in the first person. My writing isn’t formal, as based on theory. It’s my voice.

CP: You discuss your struggles with alcohol in the book. You haven’t had a drink since 1979 and talk about going to ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS meetings in a church hall on Bloor Street at the film festival that year. Did you have any qualms about including that in your book and how did the decision to stop drinking change your life and writing?

RE: I felt I couldn’t leave it out and make any sense of what happened during many years. Stopping drinking saved my life, probably lengthened it and made it a lot happier. There will not be a tragic final curtain.

CP: In the book, you note that stars used to be less protected and cocooned and write about the access you used to have, including being on the set of BUTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDANCE KID. Why do you think this change has happened and how has it affected your job?

RE: The stars were more self confident in those days. They didn’t shelter within a cocoon of publicists. That means in interviews they came across as more colourful and interesting.

CP: You say in the book that, generally speaking, your favourite movies are the ones about good people. What do you mean by that?

RE: Sad movies don’t make me cry. Movies about goodness make me cry. I am moved by people trying to be nice, decent and brave.

CP: Going back for a moment to your favourite places — you also vow in the book to keep visiting them. How are you feeling these days and how does your health affect your ability to travel to film festivals?

RE: My health is fine, except for my obvious troubles — and problems with shoulder and back pain after the surgeries, as they were trying to rummage around and find bones and tissue to transplant in a facial reconstruction.

CP: The book’s final chapter is entitled GO GENTLY and in it, you say that you don’t fear death. Earlier in the book, you write that you and your high school classmates had no idea how lucky you were and that your job running a campus paper was pretty much the best gig you’ve ever had, about how you miss the majestic theatres of old. Did writing this book help you take stock of your life and make you view it any differently? If so, how…?

RE: At the time, it was simple a life — mine. Now I realize what good fortune I’ve had. And how many people helped me.

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