Fran Lebowitz is one of those people who is famous for being famous. She’s not quite as vapid as the Kardashians, but she is of that type. Much like it is difficult to compare athletes from one era to the current one, was Gretzky better than Richard, for instance, one might ask “which angry, sad princess is more boring, Fran or Kim?”
I knew that going in, but I took in the second episode of Pretend It’s a City because I heard from a trusted source that this particular slice of indulgent pie contains tasty jazz stories.
A more apt description of those 32 minutes was having lunch with Fran, she is the only one who talks, and she only talks about herself, and you better goddamn realize how fortunate you are to be in the presence of Ms. Lebowitz.
There was a time when you could get a similar experience simply by walking past a crazy person on the street or riding public transit. It’s the same sort of one-way conversation, more sad than civil.
Spike Lee, whose batting average for making good movies is well below The Mendoza Line, makes an appearance, and that should come as no surprise. After all, you can’t bake a cake without flour, and you can’t have a proper meeting of this particular flavour of egomaniacs without Mr. Knicks himself.
True to form, Spike Lee calls jazz legend Charles Mingus “Charlie”.
Of course, he does. Spike is an “insider”, man. He owns all that culture, don’t you know? I’ve read words written by Sue Mingus saying that nobody called Mr. Mingus “Charlie”. Nobody except Spike Lee, apparently.
In other words, Mr. Lee is appropriating Mr. Mingus, and by doing so he is doing a gigantic disservice. Instead of engaging with Ms. Lebowitz, maybe displaying a sense of wonderment or even appreciation for Mingus and his work, the two use his name the same way Paris Hilton might use the word Gucci.
“That purse is mine“. “That jazz is mine“.
I suppose that should come as no surprise, coming from a man who reduced the life of one of the most important civil rights leaders ever into a disposable fashion statement, X baseball caps.
I can’t help but think of the word usurp here, because maybe it is the correct one to use. When Lebowitz tells of being run out of a bar and chased halfway to Central Park from The Village by Charles Mingus, she makes it all about her. She tells it as if it was her story; she is so important that a jazz legend left his performance to attend to Ms. Lebowitz.
“Look, I did that. I got Mingus to chase me for 20 blocks in Manhattan. Look at ME!”
Malcolm is “A Spike Lee Joint”, Mingus is a brand that Lebowitz owns, and we are all very fortunate that these two have gifted us such wonderful swag.
There’s an old William Burroughs routine about being wary of vampires. “Old Bull Lee” basically warns that “they want to take everything” and wonders “Why should they get anything?” Lebowitz is basically a vampire on the loose in Manhattan, even looking the part. She not only sucks on cigarettes, she sucks the life and celebrity out of other people, making them and their fame her own.
Listening to Lebowitz’ stories made me feel dirty and uneasy, kind of like hearing a comedian tell another comedian’s jokes. Sure, it is enjoyable on one hand, but it is ultimately dirty and wrong.
And while on the topic of comedy, at one point it seemed to me that Fran seemed to almost morph into an original and successful comedian. Towards that end, perhaps that is a concise and clear summary of Pretend It’s a City: Fran Lebowitz is a Poor Man’s Gilbert Gottfried.
In the end, we might as well see Fran in front of a mirror, admiring herself as she smokes the greatest cigarette ever, admiring herself as she smokes it better than perfectly, all the while admonishing everyone else in the world who smokes for doing it completely wrong.