New York’s Museum of the Moving Image held a screening of “Life Itself,” the documentary focusing on late film critic Roger Ebert, followed by a chat with his wife Chaz Ebert, film critic Scott Foundas and filmmaker Ramin Bahrani. Among Bahrani and Foundas praising his work and discussing his influence, Chaz Ebert offered a few insights into his private life, their relationship and Roger’s quirks. Here are the seven most charming, wonderful and touching things that Chaz had to say about her late husband. “Life Itself” opens in limited release on July 4.
The Eberts and director Steve James had originally envisioned another angle for the documentary.
“Roger said, ‘If it’s going to be a movie, I want it to be a movie that I would want to see.’ So Steve [James] wrote out this beautiful thing. He envisioned shooting for a year. He wanted to shoot Roger going to festivals, giving speeches with his custom device, teaching classes at the University of Chicago and film schools. Doing all of these things. Well, the day he claim to our house, Roger mentioned the pain in his hip. The next day he was in the hospital. So instead of shooting over a period of a year, he shot for four months and Roger passed. So it became a very different movie than what was envisioned.”
Roger loved Twitter.
“Roger was always an early adapter of technology, but he resisted going on Twitter or Facebook for some reason, I don’t know why. So I kept after him. ‘Roger you must join Twitter, you should!’ And he said, ‘No! Twitter is for twits. I’m a real writer, I can’t be limited to 140 characters.’ And of course once he joined Twitter he became the king of Twitter. He used to tweet like a teenager. Then he’d look to see how many followers he had, it was 10,000 and then 20,000. Around the time he got up to 800,000 he was like, ‘Wow this is OK!’ Later he did say that if he didn’t have social media and his blogs as an outlet when he lost his physical voice, he probably would have died insane. Because he had all of these ideas churning around. And Roger not only wanted to express his ides, he was a communicator, and it was important to him that there be a two way communication. He didn’t want to just send something out one way. He really liked giving things back for people. So I just really thank anyone who ever really communicated with him.
Chaz loved watching Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert fight.
“I would love watching them bicker about stuff, but not in person. Sometimes it would be such knock down, drag out fights in the studio that I would leave. I couldn’t stay there. But then they were really funny when they were ganging up on each other or somebody else on the show.”
Her favorite pieces of Roger’s were on Terrence Malick films.
“I loved all of his writing about Terrence Malick. His writing on Malick just really speaks to me. There are some other directors that he writes about, that when he writes about them his writing is either so poetic or so philosophical. It’s like he’s sitting next to you and having a conversation with you about them.”
She’s thankful that Roger’s last review was of a Malick film rather than of “Transformers.”
“I am so happy that the last full review he wrote was ‘To The Wonder’ by Terrence Malick and, I’m not picking on Michael Bay, rather than ‘Transformers.’ I’m so happy about that. I just remember it was the last one and I remember sitting at his side in the hospital when he was writing it and us discussing it after it was over. The look on his face when he was talking about it and the characters and how there’s so little dialogue, he was enraptured when he was writing that and I loved seeing that. And so when I read it just means something more than just the words on the page, that particular one.
Chaz and Roger started communicating telepathically towards the end.
“When Roger lost his physical voice they suggested that we take sign language so that we could communicate not only together but with more people. Roger said, ‘No, I know my own language. I will make up my own sign language.’ And he did and we were fortunate. But one time we were were having a dinner, Tony Scott was there, and Michael Phillips was there, we had everything all out, Christmas tree and everything. We lived in this row house, like a five story town house, and Roger was on the 2nd floor and I was on the 1st floor, and he looked down and he started talking to me and I said, ‘OK I’ll get it.’ And Tony Scott and Michael Phillips were looking and I realized… Roger didn’t have a voice, he didn’t have a device, he didn’t have a notepad. I heard him. We developed a mental telepathy. And that’s how we used to communicate with each other.
Roger didn’t like Chaz’s favorite film, and vice versa.
“When I first started dating Roger, he knew one of my favorite movies was ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and I didn’t know that he had given it thumbs down. But the first day I met Gene Siskel, Gene got into the car and said ‘Hello I’m Gene Siskel. I’m so glad to meet you. Do you know that Roger didn’t like ‘A Clockwork Orange’? And I said, ‘No I didn’t!’ Then Roger got in the car and Gene said, ‘Guess what! I told her.’
Over the years he did make an effort. He said, ‘I want to watch it again, perhaps I’m wrong.’ But it didn’t take. He said, ‘There’s something about the movie that just doesn’t reach me, it doesn’t resonate with me.’ He never liked ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and that’s OK. The one that he liked a lot that I didn’t get was ‘Joe Versus the Volcano.’ I watched it a couple of times because I knew how much it meant to him. For years I did not give it a thumbs up. Then finally one day something happened and I watched it again and I got it.”