Film: Public Speaking (HBO 2011)
Director: Martin Scorsese
?The primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid: the state of being alone.?
?The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.?
Gay Connoisseurship, Democracy in Art, and the Progressive Dumbing Down of Culture
In school, Fran Lebowitz was punished for reading books of sardonic essays behind her textbooks and laughing out loud. When her own essays finally got the attention they deserved, she was offered six-figure sums for books she hadn’t even written yet. Evidently the educational system not only fails to nurture genius, it also punishes and attempts to sabotage it.
There are other influences besides the educational system that, according to Lebowitz, have led to the dumbing down of our culture. One is the fact that art and culture aficionados don’t know enough about culture to know that It’s now being endlessly recycled to the point where it is, in Lebowitz’s words, ?death-dealing.? Everything looks new because no one knows about the past.
Another contributing factor is the democratization of the arts. Democracy has no place in culture, says Fran; culture must be an aristocracy of talent, and those who don’t make the grade must be excluded and forbidden to contribute. (She tells one roomful of young people that they’ve been given far too much self-esteem and should not be producing books.)
Still a third element that contributed to the increasing stupidity of American culture was the AIDS crisis. Many have remarked on how this epidemic took out hordes of New York’s best artists in a very short time, but few have taken note of the impact of the loss of one of the most subtle and advanced audiences imaginable, people who were sensitive and well-informed, manifesting a highly sophisticated aesthetic. According to Fran, when this audience died the subtleties and details that made up New York’s most phenomenal films, music, performances, writing, and art no longer mattered. It was okay to be mediocre or less because the upper echelon had disappeared.
One great virtue of Fran Lebowitz’s brain is the simplicity and brevity of her speech. Another is that she refuses to admit the old, worn-out clichés, poses, attitudes, and ways of thinking and is perpetually open to seeing and talking about the new in ways that are so simple but which haven’t occurred to anyone else.
One would think a documentary about a writer wouldn’t pack much visual oomph, but Scorsese has done a wonderful job of creating atmosphere in this film. The more visually iconic aspects of New York City providing an inviting backdrop, couching the fascinating Lebowitz with her sartorial style, her rapid speech, and the mesmerizing flip of her hands.
Public Speaking manifests six of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence; 3) it stimulates my mind; 4) it gives me artistic tools; 5) it makes me want to be a better artist; and 6) it makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomenon, making living a unique opportunity.