Saturday, December 4, 2010

Public Speaking at Its Best

I just watched the new HBO Documentary Public Speaking, a film by Martin Scorsese about a New York institution. Here's what the New York Times had to say:

"To many Americans — millions, really — the name Fran Lebowitz doesn’t mean much. But in certain precincts, vital to the cultural functioning of both coasts, she is famously a friend, a crank, a climber, a cautionary tale, an iconoclast and a mouth. In “Public Speaking,” Martin Scorsese’s enormously enjoyable and perceptive documentary about her, Ms. Lebowitz’s endearing narcissism is a study in the notion that arrogance and insecurity are largely two sides of the same cocktail coaster."

After being expelled from high school and receiving a GED, Lebowitz worked many odd jobs before being hired by Andy Warhol as a columnist for Interview. This was followed by a stint at Mademoiselle. Her first book was a collection of essays titled Metropolitan Life, released in 1978, followed by Social Studies in 1981, both of which are collected (with a new introductory essay) in The Fran Lebowitz Reader.

For more than twenty years she has been famous in part for not writing Exterior Signs of Wealth, a long-overdue novel purportedly about rich people who want to be artists, and artists who want to be rich. She also made several appearances on Late Night With David Letterman during the early part of its run. Recently she has made recurring appearances as Judge Janice Goldberg on the television drama Law & Order.

As the Times says, "Nothing, Ms. Lebowitz says in the film, leaves her as fearful as writing. But the certainty with which she declaims (on gender, on connoisseurship, on Times Square and, all too reductively and even nonsensically, on race and politics) suggests that she isn’t afraid of writing because she worries she won’t be good enough. She is afraid of writing because she worries that she won’t be Alex de Tocqueville enough."

Substitute the word writing for the word illustrating and you come to realize how similar the art forms really are.

Shot in The Waverly Inn we're also treated to the wall murals of illustrator Ed Sorel, whom Fran gives a shout-out in the film.

If you're a New Yorker—you can only claim that if you've lived in the city over ten years—or just love this city, this is the film for you.

A poignant reminder about the AIDS epidemic is included here, as Fran points out not only did we lose some of our best artists, we lost the audience who loved and supported them. The revelation is clear: we're just not as cultivated as we once were. The film will have you thinking, laughing and commiserating all at the same time. Check it out.


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