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to see which is the incredible courage and grace and even his sense of humour about it all. Q: You don’t shy away from the other side of him acting like a petulant kid, there is a great line in there which says ‘He was a nice guy, but he wasn’t that nice’, presumably you had to do that otherwise it would have ended up as being implausible? SJ: Yes, I mean Roger was very candid about his alcoholism days. He was candid about his love of big breasted women and I love when Bruce Elliott, the guy in the bar, said that some of the women that he had earlier dated were gold diggers or psychos. You know, I think he dated his share of those. But I think you really see it most in his relationship with Gene Siskel. It is interesting I mean there is a reason I wanted to call it Life Itself, based on the memoir, because we leaned on it and it is such a beautifully done memoir. It is a great template, it deserves that credit in making this film, but there is one big deviation that this film makes from the memoir and that is dealing with the relationship between Gene and Roger. In the memoir, Roger writes about Gene from a very sentimental...looking back on his old foe and friend and it is not nearly as vicious as it really was and I knew that we had to really dig into that. Q: There is another earlier quote in the film about cinema and I wonder how much that chimes with your own sense of what cinema is? SJ: I was at that event in 2005 when he got that star. I heard it was happening and I went down and I just wanted to see him get that star, but I missed that speech, I got there too late for the speech so when I saw the footage I was just blown away. It is for me the most clear and concise definition of what movies should aspire to be and in a way for me as a documentary filmmaker, the ultimate calling for film, especially documentaries, should be to have you sit in an audience not in judgement of people that you see on the screen but to really understand them, not have them whitewashed for bad behaviour, but to really understand and that was what Roger loved most about movies and certainly something that I try to actively do in the films I do. Q: Part of the film is also about journalism and the changes and about evolution of journalism. He starts out blogging and at the end of the film he has fully embraced the evolutions taking place. Were you aware of the subtext that was taking place? SJ: Absolutely. I mean the thing about Roger’s life which is interesting to me. His life paralleled this incredible period of history of journalism and of films. He became a film critic in 1967, which for American cinema was an apocryphal year, Bonnie and Clyde was released, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The Graduate, I mean this was a serious watershed moment which most people would say was the great American Cinema of that time. It also paralleled the rise of cinephile culture where people just loved going to see arthouse films and European filmmakers and interesting American filmmakers and Kurosawa and these iconic film figures, so his career sort of paralleled all of that and he came up through that period of time and he saw all the changes as a film critic from 1967 to where we are now where there are big concerns about the logistics of theatrical film watching, but I think that one of the things that was so remarkable about Roger is that he both appreciated the grand traditions of journalism and of cinephile culture but he was never backward looking: he realized that you had to hold on to what we love, the great big screen experience of watching a movie together but we can’t say that is the only way we can see movies because they will die if we don’t embrace the new technologies that come along and I think that was remarkable for someone to do particularly for someone who had seen cinema at his greatest. Q: He embraced a great sense of popularism of an audience that weren’t necessary educated to universal cinema and he also wanted to reach across race barriers? SJ: And he did that beautifully. He wrote about the democratic art form in the most democratic of ways. He also found ways of bringing his own experience from time to time but never in a kind of navel basic way. I mean he would be writing about a romantic comedy and he would write about his own struggles with romance, and all those kind of things bound him to his audience. As Roger Simon, the writer says of him in the film: he was the guy sitting in the fifteenth row with a bag of popcorn in one hand watching a movie and that endeared him to everyday movie lovers. He was not only the first critic to win the Pulitzer Prize, which I’m sure aroused intense jealously among some established film critics, but he also with Gene Siskel, revolutionized the idea of film criticism on television and he created the whole idea and then he turned-around and went to the blogasphere of the internet. Roger was one of the people who went to bat for the internet critics with the studios and say these critics need to be at the screenings just like me. They are legitimate film critics, you cannot bar them because they don’t write for the New York Times or the Chicago Tribune. It was an extraordinary and powerful thing for him to do of his stature and he was constantly in the act of re-inventing. Q: What would Ebert have made of this film? SJ: I think Roger would have liked the film. I mean if he didn’t like it maybe I could point a finger at him and say, ‘You know dude, this is as much your fault as mine.’ I mean what he loved about the documentaries which were his favourite

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Profile for Brian Mills

Movies by Mills (December 2014)  

A magazine for discerning cinemagoers and filmmakers.

Movies by Mills (December 2014)  

A magazine for discerning cinemagoers and filmmakers.

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