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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

November 30, 2010 at 4:03 PM

Scorsese films Lebowitz: “Public Speaking”

Wondering what Martin Scorsese’s been up to since “Shutter Island”? Here’s just one of many current projects: “Public Speaking,” a documentary about the New York writer and wit Fran Lebowitz, who’s best known for the two essay collections “Metropolitan Life” and “Social Studies,” written nearly thirty years ago. I watched the film on HBO last night (it’s made for cable, and currently available on demand) and loved it, though it sounds like the sort of thing that couldn’t possibly work: It’s basically Lebowitz and Scorsese (who’s mostly off camera) sitting at a booth in Manhattan’s Waverly Inn and discussing a variety of topics; like “My Dinner with Andre” minus one of the guests. We also see clips of Lebowitz being interviewed by Toni Morrison, and speaking to a college crowd. So basically, it’s an hour and a half of a writer talking, off the top of her head — a writer, mind you, who hasn’t published a book in decades thanks to what she cheerfully describes as a wicked case of “writer’s blockade” — and it works like gangbusters. Lebowitz is wry, funny, smart and insanely quick; she and Scorsese didn’t set the topics for discussion in advance, and the film’s energy reflects its of-the-moment quality. This quirky, chatty film won’t be to everyone’s taste, but watch the trailer and see if you’re intrigued:

(A taste of Lebowitz, though not from the film: In a recent discussion of books, Lebowitz expressed her disapproval — something she does quite often — of those who evaluate books based on how well they can relate to them, or how much they reflect the reader’s own life. “A book should not be a mirror,” she says sternly. “A book should be a door.” Somebody put that on a T-shirt.)

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