In this post, I share a review of the documentary, Pretend it’s a City, my complicated relationship with New York, my newfound adoration of Fran Lebowitz, and the new habit she inspired me to adopt.
When I relocated to northeast Florida in 2013, I felt an immediate sense of belonging. The slow pace of life, the soft accents, the smiles, the hospitality, and the patience—these were my kind of people.
I grew up adjacent to a different kind of land. One made up of omnipresent traffic jams, black clothes, pizza grease, and middle fingers. Early in my career, I (voluntarily) worked in one of its many high rises, but I didn’t last more than two years.
My complicated relationship with New York
While The Big Apple never was, or never will be my speed, as they say, “You can take the girl out of New York, but you can’t take the New Yorker out of a girl.” As I sip sweet tea, surrounded by palmettos, I can’t help but smirk whenever I spot a tell-tale sign of my past seep into my present.
Just yesterday, I was waiting in line at Target when my ears perked up. “Yeeh-yeeh-yeeh,” the woman in front of me sputtered to the clerk, with the rapidity of a galloping stallion. That’s New York speak for, “yes.”
The southern clerk nodded and blinked at the woman slowly like she was drifting into sleep. Can you tell when someone is clenching their jaw from under a face mask? I can. I almost felt called to step in and be an intermediary between this sloth-like check out process and the customer’s obvious (to me) desire to get on with her day.
The transaction ended without any audible expletives. But if the customer had communicated something like an, “un-f***ing believable,” I would have given her a slight nod of approval. I suppose that this is the most New York thing about me: to have such a distaste, but also an unshakable pride.
Pretend it’s a City Documentary Review
Pretend it’s a City, a seven-part documentary about Fran Lebowitz and her beloved New York, dropped on January 8th of this year. I’m sure there was a commercial reason for the release date, but I like to think it was chosen because it’s almost quite literally the darkest day of the year. With twinkly Christmas lights pushed deep into the attic and spring still months away, viewers were primed to experience the series like a true New Yorker— it sucks. Deal with it.
The series was produced and directed by Martin Scorcese, who is not only a seasoned film director but a fellow New Yorker and an old friend of Lebowitz’s. At the heart, the documentary is a conversation between friends about a place they both revere.
Huddled over a dimly lit table at The Players Club, Scorcese prompts Lebowitz with a series of topics, including culture, transportation, procrastination, money, health, reading, and writing. The camera stays focused on Lebowitz, but I imagined Scorcese relaxing into his chair after each question, knowing that no matter the answer, that he was in for a treat.
My newfound adoration of Fran Lebowitz
I was not familiar with Fran Lebowitz’s work before watching Pretend it’s a City, but I felt like I knew her. She is the culmination of people I grew up around, worked with, and from whom I purchased bagels. Her cynicism, to me, sounds like music— a tune as familiar as “Row, row, row your boat.”
As is the same for many creative individuals, it’s challenging to sum up Lebowitz’s “job” in a single sentence. She is a writer, though she has famously been suffering from the world’s longest bout of writer’s block (her last book was published in 1994). Public speaking, special appearances, small acting roles, and contributing to publications like Vanity Fair round out her professional work— all delivered in her signature sardonic style.
For the love of New York
In addition to conversations between Lebowitz and Scorcese, Pretend it’s a City showcases clips from past interviews and television appearances, mixed in with fantastic historic New York City imagery and pops of brassy music.
I don’t know if Pretend it’s a City paints New York or its people in the best light, but it certainly left me with a sense of longing. If you miss New York, don’t mind judgemental people, and appreciate dry humor, or tortoiseshell glasses, you will undoubtedly enjoy the series.
I don’t think Fran Lebowitz aims to inspire, but she inspired me
Because I am now a nearly decade-long resident of the south, I’ll end this with a warm smile and a note of positivity. The title, Pretend it’s a City, comes from Lebowitz’s plea to people of New York, who insist on walking around with their heads in their phones, oblivious that they are not the only person in the world.
Lebowitz doesn’t have this problem because she doesn’t carry a phone. She doesn’t own a phone, nor a computer, or even a typewriter. Does this make her out of touch with reality?
It certainly doesn’t seem to be the case. Without the tether of a device, Lebowitz experiences a first-hand account of life. She’s seeing things that most of us are incapable of noticing. And it made me realize how much I’ve been missing, considering I live most of my life behind glass.
What’s the opposite of writer’s block?
While I haven’t tossed my phone, and I type this from my MacBook Pro, Pretend it’s a City inspired me to reduce my social media usage in the mornings, evenings, and all day Sunday. In addition to being more present, it feels as though I’ve gained an extra day in my week.
And ironically, unlike Lebowitz, I’ve been experiencing the opposite of writer’s block. The greatest driver behind my decision to cut back from social media has been to find more time to create. It has led to blogging more regularly and writing about topics like books, television, film, and documentaries like Pretend it’s a City — which I’ve been talking about doing for years.
Who would have thought that a Netflix series about a cynical New Yorker would be the thing to make me finally take action?