“I used to be a writer” Fran Lebowitz Mentions in passing, in the first scene of the first episode of their new one Netflix Documentary series “Imagine it’s a city“And she gives that information whatever weight she thinks it deserves – that is, very little. That is her nature. She was quite an important writer indeed, and her” Metropolitan Life “and” Social Studies “are some of the most beautiful and funniest chronicles of New York life ever published, but the latter was published in 1981 and she’s now spent significantly more time suffering from writer’s block than she, you know, spent. Write.
Instead, she makes a living watching daily life (“I just sit there looking at my fellow human beings, and that’s mostly overly interesting”) and speaking – giving lectures, asking questions and answers, and appearing on talk shows and to share their observations. Her girlfriend Martin Scorsese, himself one of the epitome of New Yorkers, first recorded these activities in the 2010 HBO documentary.Public speech”; “Pretend It’s a City” is basically a serial-length sequel to this film, with Scorsese directing all seven of the approximately 30-minute episodes and the cameraman “Public Speaking” Ellen Kuras and editors Damian Rodriguez and David Tedeschi Return too. The resulting series, like the film (and its theme), is gloriously grumpy, whippy, and inflammatory.
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This opening sequence explains the title by its frustration with the constant flow of tourists into New York City (at least at that time). She envisions writing a manifesto called “Imagine it’s a city” and not only that, but a city “where there are other people!” And pretend it’s a city where there are other people who aren’t just sightseeing! “The idea of a city in Lebowitz gives the film its (very loose) structure, as each episode covers one or two topics with a corresponding title for the city administration: travel (” Metropolitan Transit “), money (” Board of Estimation “), Books and reading (“library services”) and so on.
But like any great speaker, Lebowitz seldom sticks to the subject; Each subject is a rest stop on a long, winding road to another. By the time we get to our destination, we’ve often come so far (or laugh so hard) that we can’t remember where we started. Scorsese and his editors are cleverly building a story here too, and while the play’s airy style makes it seem like they’re giving it wings, biographical details penetrate where they can (she talks about her taxi driving days on The episode, “Metropolitan Transit “For example, and talking about money on” Board of Estimate “leads to some fascinating sidebars about how she’s doing it right now.
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As with “Public Speaking,” New York City is her main topic – on the show and in her life. Like any real New Yorker, she has a complicated relationship with the city; “If there had been another place I could think of, I would have gone there,” she desperately says, but in the end she cannot tear herself away because New York, as she puts it simply but precisely, “never gets boring.” So she has a lot to say about real estate, architecture, culture and the cost of living: “Nobody can afford to live in New York. StillEight million people do it. How shall we do it? We do not know it! It is a mystery to us! “In a strange, surprising way,” Pretend It’s a City “is almost like a travel show, albeit one that only goes to one place. It tells you things to look out for when in New York City. What is great about these buildings and streets and in a way that was certainly not intended at the time of production, it became a shipment from an earlier version of the city when people were still roaming around, visiting libraries, and in bars and clubs Bookstores stood side by side.
Scorsese adheres to the “public speaking” style for the most part and seems to adopt the “if it ain’t broken don’t fix it” philosophy. It’s a show that’s simply enough about a woman speaking – take that, Scorsese critic – but the pace is fast, juxtaposing complementary but contrasting attitudes and scenarios. Rodriguez and Tedeschi again interrupted a private conversation between Lebowitz, Scorsese and a third party (Graydon Carter in film, screenwriter and producer Ted Griffin here) with public appearances and talk show appearances, new and archived. This time around, there are also new live full-audience interviews conducted by people like Alec Baldwin, Spike Lee, and Olivia Wilde. And then Scorsese complements Lebowitz’s words with little interludes about writers and artists who inspire her (and it is obvious, him), and complements her memories with archival material – historical, educational and fictional, including even her own films. (Most of the Scorsese note, however, is taking a clip from one of his favorite frames. Visconti “The leopard. ”)
The director is working on clever visual manifestations of her commentary – the best part is she’s projected onto a Times Square screen, complaining about walking across Times Square as she walks across Times Square – and brilliant location work, including leaving the famous “Panorama of New York City” (“The other thing I wanted was Godzilla’s rubber suit,” he laughs) and putting them in the stacks of the beautiful Stephen A. Schwarzmann building of the New York Public Library to talk about books.
There is an adorable buddy comedy element in this sequence, and throughout the series, Scorsese is an excellent straight man who gives reactions, feeds her cues, and so on. Most importantly, he’s a great audience, and it’s remarkable how many times you see her break him down: his shoulders tremble in the over-the-shoulder footage of their conversations, a wonderful two-shot in the credits of the sixth episode, in which she tells a funny story and he just doubled Quake with laughter. They leave the show feeling that Scorsese really loves Lebowitz as a performer and person – loves to hang out with her, loves to laugh with her – and that’s the key to Pretend It’s a City. If you find her as funny as he does, it’s as exciting as any show on TV.
Reluctantly, I’d like to add that it’s also a show that doesn’t benefit from Netflix’s binge-friendly model. First of all, like any pleasure, it should be made to last forever. But what is more important, as wonderful as Lebowitz is, three and a half hours someone is a lot to take, and when you look at them all at once, their cynicism (and occasional tendencies toward reactionary borderline positions) can get a little too much. Likewise, the stylistic signatures and processing patterns of the show, when viewed in quick succession, can be a bit more obvious (and thus monotonous).
There are also some questions about its conclusion. You may have at least a fleeting feeling that, for the journey and time invested by the viewer, “Pretend It’s a City” should lead to a definitive ending rather than a more penetrating end thought, a broader summary of the big idea. On the other hand, this would contradict the company’s humble spirit, which does not seek to be the last word on any of its subjects, including Fran Lebowitz. Instead, it’s a celebration of that character, their words (“I have no power. But I’m full of opinions!”) And their city – a tribute to an incredible storyteller, a cheerful Kurmudgeon and a true racing driver. [A-]
“Pretend It’s a City” debuts on Netflix January 8th.