Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Life Itself.

What is film criticism? According to Wikipedia the definition is as follows:
Film criticism is the analysis and evaluation of films and the film medium. In general, it can be divided into journalistic criticism such as appears regularly in newspapers and other popular, mass-media outlets (which would now includes internet movie blogs) and academic criticism by film scholars that is informed by film theory and published in academic journals.  The task of the critic is to provide an honest assessment of a movie before it is released to a general audience. A Blogger can be somewhat different in that they can write about any type of movie, old or new, some of who specialise in a particular genre or period. This weeks Robert Burns Centre Film Club screening was about a world famous American film critic. Life Itself (2014) is a biographical documentary film about Roger Ebert, based on Ebert’s 2011 memoir of the same name. Directed by Steve James who some of you will remember from the documentary The Interrupters (2011) which featured the work of Cease Fire an initiative of the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention in an attempt to control violence on the streets of Chicago.
Ebert at the Sun-Times.

Thats wot you call a study!!

Because of the lack of volunteers Rachel Findley was kind enough to step in at short notice to host again this week, and gave us a brief résumé about the subject of tonight’s documentary. She started by telling us that Ebert was the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper from 1967 until his death in 2013 after an 11-year battle with cancer. In 1975 he was the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. During his busy writing career he published more than twenty books and dozens of movie review collections.  
'At The Movies' with Gene Siskel.
In 1975 he also became a household name in the United States when he teamed up with his rival from the Chicago Tribune Gene Siskel, to co-host a TV film review programme. Originally to be called Sneak Previews, At The Movies became famous for the ‘thumbs up – thumbs down’ previews. The pair became the most powerful film critics to appear on television and are credited with presiding over a significant change in the role of the film critic.
Roger Ebert marriage to Chaz Hammel Smith in 1992.
Rachel went on to explain that prior to the 1960’s, newspapers did not take cinema reviews very seriously. Often various journalists would take turns to produce the review, writing under one pen name like ‘Mat Inee’.  The only critics that were taken seriously at that time were those that wrote in academic film publications. It was not until the New York Herald journalist Judith Crist attacked Joseph L Mankiewicz 1963 film Cleopatra that starred movie royalty of that time, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, which not only got Crist banned by Fox from the screenings but generated so much national publicity for the Herald that all America’s national newspapers named there own film critics. Rounding of her introduction she opined how modern social media has changed the role of the critic, giving as an example: the Argo (2012) poster which rather than the normal quotes from newspaper critics was filled with Twitter comments.
Chaz and....

....Roger near the end of his life.

I have grown to like a lot of documentary’s over the last two or three years and would certainly not now be put off by them in general, instead judging each subject matter on its own merits. Monday night’s audience consisted of seven people, yes that’s right seven people with only three Film Club members in attendance, which was surprising considering the film’s topic! Steve James’s movie turned out to be an exceptionally moving and affecting experience, mainly because it looked at Ebert’s life and death square in the face, refusing to hide the sometimes quite graphic details of his cancer. The movie proved the old adage that behind ever great man there always a great woman, in this case his wonderful wife Chaz Hammelsmith Ebert. Ebert wrote, "She fills my horizon, she is the great fact of my life, she has my love, she saved me from the fate of living out my life alone, which is where I seemed to be heading”. You can understand why he loved her so much.

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