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Film critic Roger Ebert talks about 'Life Itself'

Movie critic Roger Ebert, now 69, continues to write reviews even after illness robbed him of speech.

Grand Central Publishing

Movie critic Roger Ebert, now 69, continues to write reviews even after illness robbed him of speech.

Life itself is different these days for film critic Roger Ebert, who is racked by thyroid cancer, debilitated by its treatment and largely confined to his Chicago home.

Ebert, 69, hasn't slowed down his writing output, though. His memoir Life Itself is more than 400 pages of remembrances and often candid autobiography. Ebert's website ( is constantly updated with his impressions on new films, and his Twitter account (@ebertchicago) has more than a half-million followers.

The man possessing the most famous thumb in the world can't do traditional interviews. Postsurgery complications led to the removal of his lower jaw and robbed him of speech. But Ebert was gracious enough to briefly answer a few questions by e-mail, about his physical condition, the current state of film criticism and his devoted wife Chaz, whom he credits with his survival.

Steve Persall, Times film critic

Losing your ability to speak seems to offer a new freedom in writing, to be more prolific and personally revealing. Could it be akin to a blind man whose sense of smell improves?

The form of a memoir has sent me searching within, where I have been surprised that so many memories reside even after being untouched for many years. I didn't "try" to remember things, but found that they well up during the act of writing. I believe being forced to turn to writing as my best form of communication may have awakened latent abilities.

One of my favorite chapters in Life Itself is "London Perambulating," that perfect walk so indelible that you now take it in your mind. What else do you miss about the world?

Just that. Walking around freely and curiously. Surgery damaged my back and shoulder muscles and, although I can walk, it's not for long, meandering distances.

With the Internet boom, the phrase "everyone's a critic" has never been truer. How does that affect your approach to film criticism?

As I must, I write only for those who read me. I can't reach the others, so why try? An ideal review, I believe, should be worth reading for itself, even if the reader doesn't care about the work under discussion. It involves larger issues and values.

Why do film critics still matter?

It beats me. I think perhaps we try to rescue two hours of our readers' lives. According to us.

Finally, a rhetorical question: Who and what would you be without Chaz in your life?

It is indeed rhetorical.

Film critic Roger Ebert talks about 'Life Itself' 09/10/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 10, 2011 4:30am]
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