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Opening scenes from Roger Ebert's memoirs, Life Itself

Roger Ebert: “This is how my memoir opens. Publication date is September 13, 2011.” Here’s a link to pre-order from Amazon.


I was born inside the movie of my life. The visuals were before me, the audio surrounded me, the plot unfolded inevitably but not necessarily. I don’t remember how I got into the movie, but it continues to entertain me. At first the frames flicker without connection, as they do in Bergman’s Persona after the film breaks and begins again…

We’ll jump ahead, past Ebert’s cascading slideshow of childhood moments, but you should click to his blog to read the whole thing.  Just want to borrow a few more sentences to bring back here:

One of the rewards of growing old is that you can truthfully say you lived in the past. I remember the day my father sat down next to me and said he had something he wanted to tell me. We had dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese and that might mean the war was over. I asked him what an atomic bomb was. He said it was a bomb as big as a hundred other bombs. I said I hoped we dropped a hundred of them. My father said, “Don’t even say that, Roger. It’s a terrible thing.” My mother came in from the kitchen. “What’s terrible?” My father told her. “Oh, yes, honey,” she told me. “All those poor people burned up alive.”

How can I tell you what they said? I remember them saying it. In these years after my illness, when I can no longer speak and am set aside from the daily flow, I live more in my memory and discover that a great many things are safely stored away. It all seems still to be in there somewhere.

Can’t resist reposting a few more paragraphs:

The next stage of my life also came about for reasons outside my control. I was diagnosed with cancers of the thyroid and jaw, I had difficult surgeries, I lost the ability to speak, eat, or drink, and two failed attempts to rebuild my jaw led to shoulder damage that makes it difficult to walk easily and painful to stand. It is that person who is writing this book.

One day in the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, still in a wheelchair, I got a visit from Cyrus Friedheim, who had come to Chicago from Philadelphia to publish (rescue) my paper after it was bankrupted by crooks. My reviews had appeared online for several years, but now he advised me to start blogging, tweeting, and facebooking. At the time I wanted nothing to do with the social media. I feared, correctly, that they would consume alarming amounts of time. …

…My blog became my voice, my outlet, my “social media” in a way I couldn’t have dreamed of. Into it I poured my regrets, desires, and memories. Some days I became possessed. The comments were a form of feedback I’d never had before, and I gained a better and deeper understanding of my readers. I made “online friends,” a concept I’d scoffed at. Most people choose to write a blog. I needed to. I didn’t intend for it to drift into autobiography, but in blogging there is a tidal drift that pushes you that way. Getting such quick feedback may be one reason; the Internet encourages first- person writing, and I’ve always written that way. How can a movie review be written in the third person, as if it were an account of facts? If it isn’t subjective, there’s something false about it.

The blog let loose the flood of memories. Told sometimes that I should write my memoirs, I failed to see how I possibly could. I had memories, I had lived a good life in an interesting time, but I was at a loss to see how I could organize the accumulation of a lifetime. It was the blog that taught me how. It pushed me into first- person confession, it insisted on the personal, it seemed to organize itself in manageable fragments. Some of these words, since rewritten and expanded, first appeared in blog forms. Most are here for the first time. They came pouring forth in a flood of relief.