March 23, 2011

Fran Lebowitz

Fran Lebowitz

The last two or three generations haven”€™t been exposed to anything good.

“€œWhat do you think should be done?”€ asks the crowd in the cinema.

“€œIf I knew what to do, I”€™d do it.”€

Maybe she thought writing could do it at one point, just as Bob Dylan thought singing could. Both set off into the world”€”he with his earnestness and guitar, she with her wit and pen. He went on to obscurer lyrics and brighter stardom, she to college-speaking engagements and dinner parties. If you can”€™t change your public, you can choose it.

Public Speaking is a good movie. We don’t see Fran Lebowitz’s house or her baby pictures. We are not shown her family or other famous people reduced to talking heads and vouching for her specialness. We only see her, and she is worth seeing, which is what famous should mean but is actually what “€œnoble”€ means”€”worthy of being known, an aristocracy of the mind that she favors and is so hateful to America. We see her and other great speakers”€”James Baldwin, William F. Buckley, and Gore Vidal”€”debating on television with truth and skill.

Recently we”€™ve been leaving most of the talking to the actors. In Public Speaking, the lady is her own scriptwriter, and she ain”€™t acting. Or if she is, it is in the old Greek sense, meaning “€œto lead, guide, set in motion.”€ Just like she leads a public life in the Greek sense”€”not by exposing her private house or private parts, but by taking part in the life of the city, by talking.

The self-professed greatest sloth of her generation doesn’t seem to have been completely idle all these years.  It sure sounds like she’s been reading, listening, looking, elevating her standards. Their height may have paralyzed her hand, but they have left us her tongue. And her eyes.

“€œMiss Lebowitz, why don’t you have a public platform here in New York City?”€

She dropped her gaze quizzically to the lectern in front of her. Did they not see it?



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