Pretend It’s a City

Ten years on from the documentary Public Speaking, Martin Scorsese reunites with Fran Lebowitz for Netflix series Pretend It's a City, where the righteous raconteur espouses on more of her personal philosophies and bugbears

Tv Review by Katie Driscoll | 28 Jan 2021
  • Fran Lebowitz in Pretend It's a City
Title: Pretend It's a City
Series Creator: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Fran Lebowitz, Martin Scorsese, Alec Baldwin, Spike Lee, Olivia Wilde
Platform: Netflix

You’ll likely quiver with envy while watching Pretend It’s a City, Martin Scorsese’s new limited series on Netflix in which the filmmaker follows author and raconteur Fran Lebowitz around New York. The bohemian downtown artist life that it depicts is all but obliterated now, in an age of wellness and constant surveillance and social media influencers – topics Lebowitz takes to with the acerbic energy and fascinating aplomb, as she has done with any venture.

In this followup to 2010’s Public Speaking, Scorsese takes a more leisurely approach, giving us over seven episodes with Lebowitz. Talking is her craft, witty bon mots her profession. You get the sense she has always undoubtedly been this way, been Fran Lebowitz the humorist, has made a career from being nothing but her authentic self.

Lebowitz traverses the trauma of being a girl in 50s America to the unmistakable truth of the #MeToo movement via the bohemian of the intellectual pantheon circles in which she ran – Warhol’s Factory, Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington’s dinner parties, and all of the turmoil that was inevitable when around such larger than life characters – without breaking a sweat or losing her humour. She is effortless, the kind of real intellectual that is profound without even trying.

Scorsese incorporated film clips into the doc, from Joseph Losey’s The Boy with Green Hair to Visconti’s The Leopard, using cinema as a way to contextualise life, and to enhance it, while adding a sumptuous visual feast, allowing us to see the past, and the world, through Fran/Scorsese’s eyes – through cinema.

The result is a beautiful symphony to New York: the New York of West Side Story and Rear Window, of Taxi Driver and Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Midnight Cowboy, of the Velvet Underground and CBGB’s and the New York Dolls. The kind of New York that perhaps only exists now in the feverish cinematic imagination.

In a time when the world is as unrecognisable as it ever has been, Pretend it’s a City is a delightful missive in which to mentally luxuriate, as well as a comforting reminder that the times always change, whether we like it or not.

Streaming on Netflix