Fran Lebowitz at The Players
Netflix’s seven-part limited series, Pretend It’s a City, takes a look at New York City through the eyes of author, comedian and actress Fran Lebowitz. Produced by filmmaker Martin Scorsese, the documentary includes a number of interviews with Scorsese himself as well as others such as Alec Baldwin, Olivia Wilde and Spike Lee.
Born and raised in Morristown, New Jersey, Lebowitz set out for New York in the 1970's in order to pursue her dream of becoming a writer and has lived there ever since. Throughout the series, Lebowitz recalls a lifetime of memories of life in the Big Apple—from the most fond to the most bizarre. When asked why she believes young people are still flocking to New York, Lebowitz answers,“Because it’s New York, what can’t you do in New York?”
While the poet may at times reveal deep affection for the city, she also draws attention to the hardships of living in New York as well. She said that if she could change one thing about New York, it would be the subway system—later referring to the crowds and chaos associated with the process. Lebowitz additionally acknowledges the high cost of living in the city saying, “No one can afford to live in New York, yet 8 million people do.”
Fran and Martin at the NY Public Library
In episode three, the actress reminisces on the first job she ever had in New York, driving a taxi cab. Lebowitz noted that the profession was very different back in the seventies than it is now. She explains how much easier it was to make a living in the city back at that time. Now, it’s much more difficult to arrive without money already in your pocket.
Sprinkled within each 30-minute episode are scenes of the streets and skyscrapers of New York—the Picasso sculpture at NYU and Times Square make many appearances. A number of Lebowitz’s interviews with Scorsese were shot for the series were filmed at a members-only theater club in Gramercy Park known as The Players. Another was conducted inside the Queen’s Museum, where the miniature panorama of the city is on display. The duo also spent time filming at the New York Public Library, Grand Central Station and Lincoln Center.
Along with her relentless takes on New York City, Lebowitz spends time discussing her life and career in relation to how much the landscape has changed for women since she arrived nearly 50 years ago. In episode one, she mentions her childhood, growing up as a girl in the fifties. She recalls the time when her mother told her to stop being funny because, “boys don’t like girls that are funny.” Now there are more female comedians than ever before. She also expressed that her parents didn’t assist her in pursuing her aspirations of becoming a writer, nor did they attempt to stop her.
Fran Lebowitz at the Queens Museum
The Metropolitan Life author later touched on the #metoo movement. Lebowitz addressed her belief that these incidents have been happening in the arts and entertainment industry for years, and it’s not something she ever really thought would change until the pushback actually began. Lastly, she spoke about the presence of women in sports today and how when she was growing up she felt no interest in such things, nor is she interested today.
Pretend It’s a City presents admiration for the great city of New York all while taking ample time to acknowledge its ever-present flaws. Getting the chance to hear stories from Fran Lebowitz, an artist who has lived there for decades, allows viewers to fully understand both the tranquil aspect and the tribulations that come along with striving for success in one of the world’s largest and most expensive cities. Despite being a realist, Lebowitz shows us that she has made a beautiful life for herself full of art, culture and success in New York City and you can too.
Pretend It’s a City is available to stream on Netflix, and all the images in this article are by courtesy of Netflix.