The epitome of the New Yorker actually comes from New Jersey. Fran Lebowitz, 70 years old, aggressively quirky, lives from the fact that she describes the quirky people in general and the residents of her adopted home New York in particular, precisely and hilariously.
These people on the sidewalks, staggering through the city, staring at their smartphones: Have they forgotten how to walk? Political correctness: Has anyone seriously complained to the school board that Edith Wharton’s great New York novel “The Age of Innocence” says that Countess Olenska has lost her good looks? The modern need for security: When, as a young woman, an apple and a pack of cigarettes were stolen from her car, the policeman was absolutely right when she said that she shouldn’t have left the things in the car, she thinks. Regarding the political climate in the USA two years ago, she said: “I’m not moving to Canada. If all of this has a positive side, it’s that Donald Trump has finally disappeared from New York.”
In the new Netflix series, Fran Lebowitz tells about the city of New York as it was to them, and which they often don’t recognize in the present Pretend it’s a City – just pretend this is a city. That’s the sentence she hurls at tourists and disoriented smartphone zombies when she comes across them.
Martin Scorsese directed the series and stands with her in front of the camera – or, to be more precise, he’s sitting there in a venerable New York club. And Fran Lebowitz tells what she has experienced and seen, and sometimes it adds up to a description of the state of the world. She was taught it was not proper to talk about money, she says; and then she suspects that the modern obsession with money may have to do with the fact that the propriety of keeping silent no longer applies.
She hasn’t finished a book in over a quarter of a century
Fran Lebowitz is actually a writer. The story of how she showed up barefoot in a publishing house as a newcomer to the city, full of hope that her poems would be snatched from her hand, also comes in Pretend it’s a City in front. However, she has not finished a book in more than a quarter of a century; the last one was a children’s book about pandas disguised as dogs in a New York apartment. Life in New York is expensive, so she’s been using her second talent ever since: she can talk like a waterfall.
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If you hear her exchanging funny staccato observations with Scorsese on the Netflix series, then you understand why talk shows like to invite her so much. Scorsese, born in Flushing, is, like Lebowitz, a part-time New Yorker – his films are chronicles of the city.
The series was planned before the corona pandemic swept the streets empty – but the two of them missed New York before. The new residential towers on the so-called “Billionaires’ Row” south of Central Park are a thorn in the side of Fran Lebowitz. Because they are not even originals, she explains – but copies of copies made in the Emirates out of envy of the beauty of the Empire State Building.
That sounds nostalgic, and Scorsese underpins this nostalgia with excursions into New York of yesterday, in pictures, in the background music. But Fran Lebowitz is still firmly convinced that everything will go on and on. She once said to Scorsese, who is a lesbian herself: “I never thought that there would be gay rights one day. I wasn’t an activist because I don’t tend to self-sacrifice – but mostly I wasn’t because I didn’t believe in them , that it works.” Fran Lebowitz is a pessimist, but the advantage of pessimism is that you get a positive surprise more often.