Public Speaking, a conversation with Fran Lebowitz (2010)

Fran Lebowitz is a smart woman. She is known for being judgmental, witty, and for not producing too much writing. The two books that she did produce over thirty years ago are still in print. She refers to her writer’s block as “writer’s blockade.” But her mouth makes up for what her pen fails to produce. It moves at full speed, and speaks with great feeling about among other things how an important, discerning audience for sophisticated culture was lost with the AIDS epidemic.

Martin Scorsese directed this film for HBO. He used Nino Rota music familiar to me from Fellini movies which provides a gentle comic background. Also to be heard is a bit of soundtrack from his own movie, Taxi Driver, when Lebowitz is seen driving her oversized car, the same model as the old yellow cabs, through Manhattan. Sometimes you can see Scorsese shaking with laughter as Lebowitz answers questions posed by a man sitting across from her in a restaurant, but who is never identified.

Especially telling are two clips from 1960s era William F. Buckley’s debates, one with James Baldwin, the other with Gore Vidal, which display Buckley’s vicious prejudices. Lebowitz never comments on them, though she does describe her first seduction into the intellectual life as watching James Baldwin talk, but the theme of homophobia and its damage run throughout the film. She clearly not only relates, she identifies as a person whose outsider status made her who she is, a woman worth listening to.


About Patricia Markert

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