(director: Martin Scorsese; cinematographer: Ellen Kuras; editors: Damian Rodriguez/David Tedeschi; cast: Fran Lebowitz, James Baldwin, William F. Buckley, Gore Vidal, Charlie Rose; Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Graydon Carter/Martin Scorsese/Fran Lebowitz/Emma Tillinger/Margaret Bodde; HBO Home Entertainment; 2010)
“Fran’s sardonic humor is appealing.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
New Yorker filmmaker Martin Scorsese(“The King of Comedy”/”New York, New York”/”The Last Waltz”) directs by pointing the camera and writer Fran Lebowitz gabs freely in her motor mouth delivery style about almost anything, as she offers her views on gays, genius, art, writers, race and gender issues. Fran came to the Big Apple at 18, in 1968, from Morristown, New Jersey, and became a cultural figure on the literary scene after hired in the early 1970s by Andy Warhol to write a column for Interview magazine. Dressed as a butch (doing her best Dorothy Parker pose) in a man’s suit, the spunky lesbian flashes her acerbic wit as she sits at a booth in the Waverly Inn in the Village with Scorsese and Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter (he owns the Waverly and was a co-producer of the movie), sits onstage at an author’s talk concert with the renown African-American author Toni Morrison and with much wit answers questions from both Toni and the audience, cheerfully walks the streets of the city observing such sites as the touristy Times Square, and frolics at Studio 54 with fellow pop culture celebs. The documentary also covers TV archive clips of Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley having a not so intellectual name calling food fight, Truman Capote signing book autographs while telling us a writer better believe what he’s writing about to be true to himself, conversing on the Charlie Rose show about writer’s block and calling it a “writer’s blockade,” and there’s a stern looking James Baldwin talking on TV about being black in racist America. During all the chatter, we are reminded of Fran’s acclaimed comic-essay collections, 1978’s Metropolitan Life and 1981’s Social Studies, plus a weirdly titled children’s book from 1994. The documentary considers Fran kvetching about unfair smoking bans, the changing scene at gay bars, intellectuals as enemies of the country, ignorant tourists and strollers blocking pedestrians just as important as her insights into the art life in the city.
Fran’s sardonic humor is appealing, as she says racism is a fantasy of superiority when the only differences are skin color. On the other hand, gender differences are real, she says, as women and men are biologically different. She tells us all we have to know about art collectors, when mentioning a funny story about a blind Picasso collector owning one of the master’s works that’s worth 120 million dollars. For me, her funniest insight was when she tells us that a straight white male adult gentile who does not become president should be considered a failure.
When Fran mentions she doesn’t own a computer, it reiterated for me to put out some cautionary caveats on her glib social bantering.
REVIEWED ON 5/6/2014 GRADE: B+