By George Angelakis,
“Pretend It’s a City” is a 2021 seven-part documentary series directed by Martin Scorsese featuring interviews and conversations between himself and Fran Lebowitz. Fran Lebowitz is a known American author and public speaker, widely known for her cynical and sometimes derisive social commentary on American life through her very own “New York prism”. The Times has called her a modern-day Dorothy Parker although allow me to say that she is yet to reach Parker’s level of wit and incisive nature, especially given her unique time frame. “Pretend It’s a City” was released on January 8, 2021 on Netflix.
Ok enough with the bombardment of information. Now pretend you are a New Yorker taking the subway every day to work, working nine to five like a dog so you can just barely make ends meet. You come home exhausted, you open the TV, log in to Netflix and stumble upon Fran Lebowitz herself, an admittedly controversial figure (I personally adore her) just sitting around in her privileged 1920’s like bar with her friend, world renowned director, Martin Scorsese, ranting just about everything and everyone, complaining, criticizing, sharing so many personal, subjective views about what’s wrong with New York and New Yorkers in general. You get so angry. She has absolutely no right to be so judgmental and absolute. Stop right there. That’s it. They did it. They made you mad. Case closed, achievement unlocked, “alea jacta est”.
But why is that a good thing? Because of course that’s their goal for when it comes to the everyday New Yorker and, admittedly for the general public as well; the very same public that remains uninterested in reading between the lines and committing for a whole hour to the hard work of some people without looking at their phones. These two people care about each and every scene, but they know that the majority of people do not. Rest assured that Martin and Fran have long realised that, but also keep in mind that everything you see in this series is premeditated. What they do, is give to those people a taste of their own medicine, while at the same time create a really impressive docuseries for the ones that actually care. So if you do not like it, fellow New Yorker why don’t just turn it off? Oh, but you won’t. Because Fran made you angry and now you bide your own time for every slight chance to shout at your TV.
For the ones that actually think about it, these two people have created a universal mould in which everyone fits exactly the way they do not want to. It is a refreshing break from crying and laughing, the two dominating sentiments, dare I say products, that the film industry always is so keen to proffer. This docuseries will make absolutely everyone at least a bit mad. That is why Fran Lebowitz is such a perfect persona for this endeavour. Because her opinions are so unique, derived from different philosophies, lifestyles and political movements yet never contradicting to one another. One cannot possibly agree with absolutely everything she says, unless you are actually her.
To the point, this series achieves one of the rarest things films, let alone series, actually can achieve, which is to create an environment and a way of storytelling that feels surreal but actually is not. A great example of such a movie is “Being John Malkovich” (Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, 1999). When I watched it for the first time I was totally flabbergasted by the unprecedented fourth wall-breaking as well as the delightfully weird, absurd and bizarre nature of the film. For some reason, I have felt the same thing watching “Pretend It’s A City”. Honestly I was caught off guard. It was then that I realized that this was Scorsese’s secondary goal. Even if you did not enjoy the series (admittedly it is not everyone’s cup of tea), I believe we can all agree that Scorsese just singlehandedly read half the earth’s population like an open book, became a “global puppeteer of emotion” and steered us right into where he wanted. If anything, that is a remarkable feat, the dream of every director, a rare occurrence in the filmmaking industry that we ought to applaud.