Fran Leibowitz: Public Speaking

Directed by Martin Scorsese (HBO)

Fran Leibowitz is one of those New Yorkers who got there at the right time, met the right people and stayed in the right circles. Last year she sat down for an interview with Martin Scorsese--- pure stuntcasting, anybody could’ve directed this thing, especially with Ellen Kuras shooting it---and the result is Public Speaking. Intercut with Q&As and archival footage, it’s a talking-head doc, but the subject is one of the great living talking heads. Leibowitz discusses the difference between humour and wit (“warmth”); how she drove a cab in the ’70s “until I made rent for the month,” then hung out with the Warhol crowd; how writing is the only discipline in which there are no prodigies (“writers need to know things”) and various ordeals in publishing. For someone so verbose, Leibowitz reveals very little; there’s no sadness, no humility, no empathy---“You saved me at 15,” a man tells her, and she doesn’t even look at him---that is maybe armour, maybe persona. Nonetheless, this is high-brow entertainment of the wittiest order---a little cold, but so what?

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