Monday, March 14, 2011
1:08 AM |
I watched two documentaries recently, both of them highlights of the 2010 nonfiction film slate, both of them a different sort each of "talking head cinema" -- and both essentially different roads going towards the same goal: consummate truth-telling, although one does come off more entertaining than the other. But what can that other one do? It does the dirty task of chronicling recent sins. This one, directed by Charles Ferguson, is the Oscar-winning Inside Job
, a brisk expose of the worldwide banking industry's (still unpunished) complicity in bringing about the current recession with hocus-pocus economics. It lays bare, with clear-headed precision, the anatomy of that financial cancer/tumor, tracing its history, baring its often confounding terminologies, and finally going as far as pointing accusing fingers at those who are specifically culpable. Some critics have taken to calling this film as perhaps the ultimate horror movie to define our times -- and I can appreciate it in that sense. Because how many people do we know have had their lives altered in such fundamental ways? The film left me cold though, albeit supremely enlightened. It felt like a Powerpoint lecture done with the earnestness of a classroom exercise, and while we are grateful for the education, what perhaps was needed most was a semblance of heart.
Which is something we get a lot from Martin Scorsese's Public Speaking
, his brilliant HBO documentary about the writer and public wit Fran Lebowitz. It seems fitting that Scorsese, an avid chronicler of New York life, should be the one to tell the story of this textbook New Yorker -- a fiercely intelligent, robustly opinionated know-it-all who is also plucky and funny. Someone has called Lebowitz the Dorothy Parker for our age, and I cannot fault the need for the comparison. In this very animated film, essentially a long gab fest of the writer and some unseen interviewers in her table in one of her favorite Manhattan haunts, we get less a biography of Lebowitz than a biography of her mind. What springs from that mind is brilliant and thought-provoking, and much more so because they are delivered as punchlines: she talks about AIDS and the depletion of a whole generation of culture connoiseurs, the Disneyfication of New York, artists and old age, homosexuality and smoking, and so on and so forth, a whole gamut of conversation pieces flowing abstractly the way good conversation goes. And like good conversation, it is highly entertaining and tremendously fascinating, helpfully interjected at times with scenes of Lebowitz doing assorted public addresses and with clips (and discussions) of other famous intellectuals and artists -- Morrison, Picasso, Casal, Parker, Warhol, Baldwin, Thurber, among them -- who have shaped the landscape of her mind and her locquaciousness. By the end of this film, I've come to this foolish hope: that one day I'd be a companion around her dinner table, and just listen to her talk and talk and talk.
Labels: documentaries, film, issues
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