Writer’s Blockade

The inestimable Fran Lebowitz is one of the 20th century’s greatest wits, fitting easily alongside names such as H.L. Mencken, Dorothy Parker, and Woody Allen. One of our favorite (seemingly) off-the-cuff remarks of hers goes, “From the number of children in evidence, it appears that people have them at the drop of a hat — for surely were they to give this matter its due attention, they would act with greater decorum.” But there is a good reason why many people younger than 40 don’t know her name: She’s published hardly a word for more than two decades. Inconceivable? Perhaps, but her beginning was equally unlikely. Lebowitz was expelled from high school, yet before long she was hired to write a column for Andy Warhol’s Interview, and after that, for Mademoiselle. Essay collections in 1978 and 1981 were bestsellers; she was for many years a regular guest on David Letterman’s talk shows. Yet her best-known accomplishment of late has been failing to finish a novel called External Signs of Wealth. The story of Lebowitz’s “writer’s blockade,” as she calls it, is part of what animates Martin Scorsese’s documentary, Public Speaking, on this non-writing writer. Through interviews and footage of Lebowitz’s many speaking engagements at colleges and elsewhere, the film paints a portrait of a genuinely vivacious yet deadpan comic personality whose trenchant wit is as sharp as ever. In a breezy 82 minutes, Scorsese reminds us that a dry, dignified, and eminently fashionable genius still lives among us.
Mon., Nov. 14; Tue., Nov. 15; Nov. 18-24, 2011

 
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