With the release of “Life Itself” fast approaching, director Steve James and Roger Ebert’s widow, Chaz, held a Reddit AMA to discuss the documentary on Ebert’s life and work. These are some highlights from their answers.
Chaz sometimes knew what movies Roger would like before he saw them, and she still does.
Chaz: There were some movies that I just instinctly knew Roger would love! And in the last year there are two in particular I wouldn’t even have to ask him about: “her” with Joaquin Phoenix, and “Nebraska”: But also know he would have liked “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave.”
Chaz and Roger didn’t always agree on movies, but he managed to turn her around on one in particular.
Steve: Besides “A Clockwork Orange,” Roger and I used to disagree on “Joe Vs. the Volcano.” He loved it and I didn’t get why he loved it so much. After he kept urging me to watch it over and over again I FINALLY got it! Not only did I appreciate the stylistic beginnings of “Joe,” I found that the philosophy of what happens when you are stripped down to the bare essentials and you have to rely on yourself resonates with us all. Plus, there are some really funny parts of the movie. Roger and I both liked eccentric things and people.
Ebert judged movies on their own terms rather than by a fixed standard — and he rated “Benji” higher than “Full Metal Jacket.”
Chaz: Roger’s criteria was that the film had to meet what it aspired to do in its genre, so for instance in “Life Itself” he and Gene Siskel are arguing over Roger’s vote on “Full Metal Jacket,” while giving “Benji” a positive review. Roger explained that cinematically Kubrick’s film was better, but overall “Benji” achieved its mission better. Also, Roger just said he had to go on how a movie made him feel.
Ebert always defended film’s right to depict violence, but as he grew older, he was less willing to watch violent movies.
Chaz: Hmm..don’t know whether I should tell you this, but while Roger’s defense of movies with violence never changed, his view of which movies he wanted to watch evolved to the point where he didn’t want to review more of the “Saw” movies. And said there was no need for another “Human Centipede” movie. He didn’t think they would make people do copy cat crimes (since most set ups of the crimes were so convoluted they were almost not reproducible). He said that some things get into your brain and you can’t undo them. And that this was the kind of stuff he didn’t want taking up room in his head.
Steve James’ favorite critics are…
Steve: I tend to read more of the older critics that I’ve liked like AO Scott, who I really enjoy reading for his clarity and insight… Anthony Lane is hilarious when he pans, Andrew O’Hehir I find to be quite smart and savvy. I’m a fan of Dana Stevens too.