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Pretend It’s City: Everything We Know About It

Martin Scorsese’s documentary series Pretend It’s a City premiered in 2021 and featured interviews and dialogues between Scorsese and Fran Lebowitz.  Netflix launched the series on January 8, 2021.

Review: Explanation Of Pretend It’s City

Martin Scorsese and Fran Lebowitz worked ten years ago on “Public Speaking,” a documentary film in which the author espoused her beliefs. “Pretend It’s A City,” a Netflix series, reunites the New York team for more of the same. The filmmaker converses with the author about a variety of topics that anger and inspire her throughout the course of seven episodes. Scorsese lays the groundwork, and Lebowitz blasts off with often hilarious, wild abandon. Each section is roughly 30 minutes long and has just enough information to keep you interested in the next. The end credits also include a final zinger, which is complemented by a well-chosen piece of music.

Pretend It's City

Lebowitz’s advice to visitors to New York City, which she relocated to from Morristown, New Jersey in 1969, inspired the title. Scorsese, of course, grew up in Manhattan, and the two share a few common locations throughout the film.The Players, a Gramercy Park social club created in the 19th century by actor (and John Wilkes Booth’s brother) Edwin Booth, is the most famous. Another is the Panorama of the City of New York, a massive geographical model commissioned by Robert Moses for the 1964 World’s Fair and housed in the Queens Museum.

Lebowitz, dressed in protective shoe covers, towers above this huge image of New York City like Gulliver in Lilliput. Offscreen, Scorsese grills her with questions while cautioning her to avoid the East River bridges.

These one-on-ones are intercut with excerpts from audience Q&As, previous Lebowitz interviews with individuals like David Letterman, and scenes of the comedian walking down the street. The film occasionally cuts to a still image or historical footage of figures like former New York City Mayor Abraham Beame, whose tenure corresponded with the iconic New York Daily News headline “Ford to City: Drop Dead.” During this time, Lebowitz worked as a writer for Interview Magazine, contributing articles such as a review of her co-second star’s feature picture, 1972’s “Boxcar Bertha.” “I loved to write until the first time I had to write an assignment for money,” she says Scorsese.

Pretend It's City

In interview footage, Toni Morrison, to whom the series is dedicated, appears, as does Spike Lee, who probes Lebowitz on her distaste of sports. She appears to be a fan of Muhammad Ali, as she was present at the Ali-Frazier I bout, which Lee admires. Despite all of this, she remains a sports sceptic. Lee grills her about that as well, becoming enraged as he brings up Jordan, LeBron, and Kobe. The tape also shows Lee at the famous Knicks game where he stood courtside and heckled an unstoppable Reggie Miller. “You are the only person who argues with me more than my family,” Lebowitz says Lee. One of the series’ attractions is their intense banter.

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Many of his leading lady’s stories and monologues are directed at Scorsese. “I knew what skill was because I witnessed the lack of it in myself,” she says of her days as a mediocre cellist in her youth. “I could improve, but I’ll never be great.” We’ve also heard stories of being voted “class wit” before being expelled from high school. That last occasion paved the way for Lebowitz to relocate to Manhattan, where she lived in a run-down apartment in a more affluent neighbourhood than the people she used to hang out with. “Everyone had the impression that New York was affordable,” she corrects this misconception in episode three.

Pretend It's City

“Pretend It’s A City” is chock-full of fascinating anecdotes and images from a bygone New York City. There’s the storey of Charles Mingus interrupting a concert to chase Lebowitz down 7th Avenue for a perceived transgression. The punchline is almost as funny as her scathing attack of the L train, the most nasty of all MTA subway lines. Lebowitz wonders how much worse it may smell than normal after learning that the train line had been stopped down for hours owing to “a horrible scent.” In episode five, Lebowitz, a lifelong smoker, makes the argument that anything that is beneficial for you feels or tastes horrible.

She has no intention of abandoning Joe Camel because her life goals are “smoking and scheming retribution.”

Scorsese is a hilarious co-conspirator, frequently allowing his images to function as comic relief. The screen changes to footage of the cab trip in “After Hours” as Lebowitz discusses her experience as a taxi driver in a profession full of guys with cigars who despised her inclusion. Scorsese moves to an onscreen statement about Leonardo DiCaprio not advocating vaping after a narrative about him handing Lebowitz a vape pen as a cigarette substitute. There’s also a beautiful shot of the film’s two stars staring through the round windows of two old-fashioned doors at the same time, apprehensive expressions on their faces.

Pretend It's City

Scorsese laughs so hard at Lebowitz’s commentary that I thought he was going to pass out. I was on the verge of passing out from laughter. This is a wonderfully humorous production, albeit I think it will appeal to the residents of the city Lebowitz adores the most. I never got tired of hearing about her pet peeves, and she has a lot of them. Your mileage may vary, but I believe the pre-pandemic world of “Pretend It’s A City” will pique everyone’s interest.

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People are out and about, and the return to routine has struck a powerful chord. Fran Lebowitz’s delivery is great, whether she’s pointing out the hypocrisy of art auctions (“they applauded the price, but not the painting”) or criticising her bad luck with real estate. So, if the first episode has piqued your interest, this is definitely worth binge-watching.

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