34 and 35 of 366: Life Itself and Desk Set

“For me, the movies are like a machine that generate empathy.”

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert & Gene Siskel
Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert in screening room for photo shoot for People Weekly, June 13, 1984; Chicago indiewire.com

It was hard to find a pairing to go with Life Itselfthe documentary about the life of Roger Ebert and based on his memoir, tonight but something about Desk Set fit the bill.

The film doesn’t come up in Ebert’s critiques presented in Life Itself and I’d like to leave it as a mystery if he did review it during his long career writing for the Chicago Sun-Times and talking through films on television with Gene Siskel.

Life Itself was finished years after Siskel passed away and after Ebert’s death as well. But, as Ebert’s wife Chaz describes in the film, he came to realize death is a part of life and was as open about his highs as much as his lows during Steve James’ filming and interviews.

James, through interviews and footage of Siskel & Ebert’s show as well as Ebert’s solo ventures, tells about his love of movies and writing and the love-hate relationship between the two critics as well as their colleagues in the business.

I wonder how many films Ebert watched and wrote about in his lifetime, maybe in the madness of my movie challenge I’ll get around to reading his memoir, but it’s clear he loved being at the movies and talking about them. I found the tales of his trips to the Cannes Film Festival to be the most interesting and the moments later in his life hardest to watch.

That also influenced choosing a pairing to follow Life Itself … it had to be funny and uplifting in some way.


Desk Set is a romance and office comedy of the 1950s about the switch of a longtime television network’s reference library to a computerized system.

That, said the library’s leader Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn – the early inventor of the top knot) would never happen because the computer couldn’t provide cross references much less a list of Santa’s reindeer at the drop of the hat, but unfortunately times changed and the IBM took over.

It’s a charming movie and Hepburn lights up the screen as she tries to save her library and has fun in her life as woman in New York City along the way. Her coworkers in the library provide added comedic relief as does Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy), the efficiency expert assigned to modernize the system.

Desk Set, whether intentional or not, clearly influenced movies of its kind for years going forward and has to have one of the best office Christmas party scenes with the champagne flowing well before Mad Men came along.

Life Itself and Desk Set are perfect for anyone with a love and respect of film and will certainly inspire you to keep on going with your goals and appreciate the small things in life.

“I’ll see you at the movies.”

— Roger Ebert





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