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Public Speaking


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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Directed by Oscar winner Martin Scorsese and produced by Emmy and Peabody winning documentary producer and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, along with Margaret Bodde, Public Speaking captures the essence of legendary New York bestselling writer Fran Lebowitz, who is perhaps most known for her unique take on modern life.

The film weaves together monologues, as well as footage from several of Lebowitz's speaking engagements, along with archival footage of Lebowitz from the 1970s to today which, showcases not only Lebowitz's unconventional worldview and experiences, but also shines a spotlight on her trademark

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For Martin Scorsese to have directed this loving biopic about author Fran Lebowitz's life, one assumes that not only must she have enormous talent, but that she, as a character, can also entertain viewers enough to warrant the making of a feature-length documentary. Indeed, as Lebowitz says in one interview among the many here, she is first and foremost a public speaker, a woman who takes talking to a high art form after she dreamed, as a child, that people would care about her opinions. Public Speaking chronicles a truly iconoclastic author and thinker whose satirically barbed wit is hilarious and controversial on the page, as well as onscreen. In her interviews she pontificates most vocally about her experiences as a New Yorker, as a writer, journalist, feminist, smoker (yes, she actually takes the protection of cigarette smoking rights up as a cause), and gay rights activist. What it adds up to, in her words, is a devotion to maintaining individual freedom. Most poignant, however, are the scenes in which she places herself historically within a New York cultural framework, as she remembers first writing for Andy Warhol's Interview magazine, then publishing her first hit novel, Metropolitan Life. Of course, while tracking any influential author's career is important, Scorsese does a wonderful job of taking a wider cultural stance, occasionally editing in footage of James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, and other radical authors to trace an American history of literary satire's ties to political causes. Lebowitz, who has been called a modern-day Dorothy Parker, astutely expresses brilliant, miniature rants on topics ranging from how wit could be connected to religious and cultural roots, to the equal importance of smart cultural audiences and artists. Lebowitz's overt manner and confidence is at first jarring, but as one settles in to listen to the many interesting points she makes, one realizes that her bold tone underpins her undying interest in watching urban culture mutate. If at first one is taken aback by what could be construed as Lebowitz's giant ego, one is likely to be swayed in her favor, coming to terms with the fact that, as she says to her friend Toni Morrison in one interview, that she's "almost always right." --Trinie Dalton

Special Features

-Short conversation with Fran Lebowitz
-Short conversation with Martin Scorsese
-Bonus clips

Product Details

  • Actors: Fran Lebowitz, William F. Buckley, Truman Capote, Pablo Casals, Candy Darling
  • Directors: Martin Scorsese
  • Producers: Fran Lebowitz, Chris Garrett, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Erin Edeiken, Graydon Carter
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: HBO Studios
  • DVD Release Date: May 24, 2011
  • Run Time: 82 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B004MQ6W7S
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,879 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Public Speaking" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By K. Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on February 25, 2011
Format: DVD
A quintessential New York personality, I really hadn't heard much about humorist Fran Lebowitz in recent years. So when Martin Scorsese's documentary "Public Speaking" popped up, I thought it would be interesting to see how the feisty Lebowitz was still getting along. Let's just say that she's as pleased with herself as ever and I certainly don't mean that in a negative way. Lebowitz, in a series of articles, essays and collections turned into books, was anointed one of the premiere social satirists of her day. A 1970's Dorothy Parker with scathing observational humor about the era in which she found fame, Lebowitz has been largely absent from the publishing scene for many years. Her most famous books were released in 1978 ("Metropolitan Life") and 1981 ("Social Studies). There was finally another collection in 1994, "The Fran Lebowitz Reader," which was still funny but was starting to show its age with quaintly out of sync cultural references.

Lebowitz, however, as a personality is always larger than life. "Public Speaking" is framed, for the most part, as sitting down in a restaurant across from Lebowitz to enjoy her bon mots. And Scorsese and team genuinely love her, they practically die laughing! There are some personal appearance clips and stock footage (always enjoy the Conan O'Brien bit when she was promoting her children's book), but mostly it's just a modern Lebowitz dissecting herself. Known for her bitter truths and honesty, Lebowitz can be a divisive personality. I, for one, think she still has plenty of relevant opinions to contribute to a modern discourse on the state of the world.

I think the recommendation of "Public Speaking" is a no-brainer for any fan of Lebowitz and those aware of her notoriety many years ago.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. Steidel on June 9, 2011
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
What an insightful, smart,and funny lady! I have seen it four times and each time I catch something different. I have read her books and articles but never heard her speak - I was not disappointed. A totally enjoyable film!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By H. L. Mason on April 4, 2012
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This is a highly entertaining documentary that does great credit to its two protagonists. No doubt it has to be Fran Liebowitz who takes the prize, but that is in no small measure thanks to Martin Scorsese who has managed to present his subject in a most natural environment, where you feel as though you are present in the proceedings, and the director (although you see the back of his head) seems invisible.
Such is the extraordinary force of her personality and humour, that there is never a dull moment. That in fact is quite some compliment since I have never actually heard of Fran Liebowitz before (unfortunately). I shan't attempt to describe the contents of this extended interview, since those who already know Fran Liebowitz need no introduction, and those who don't - well you don't know what you're missing (unless you don't happen to like the New York "take" on life).
I thank Mr. Scorsese for helping me make up for lost time, and if ever he should think of a sequel, count me in!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By D. H. Dawes on April 20, 2011
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
To be seen and savored, again and again. You can feel those brain cells that regulate intelligence lighting up in delight---oh, this is what I have been missing!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rachel Grean on July 24, 2011
Format: DVD
I knew of Fran before this documentary. I, like many others read Metropolitan Life, watched interviews with her and noticed photos of her while at various social/industry gatherings in New York through the years. It's all the same Fran - what you see is what you get, not one to mince words, no apologies and all the while insightful, provocative and witty. I doubt if anyone reading or listening to her comes away unaffected.

The documentary was filmed primarly at a restaurant table and is interspersed with film clips of her interview with Charlie Rose, etc. The time flew by as I watched and listened to every word, including the Extras.

I'm so glad Martin Scorsese thought Fran was documentary-worthy. I thoroughly enjoyed it and will again.

The Fran Lebowitz Reader

The Portable Dorothy Parker (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Phred on March 9, 2015
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Not only do I count myself a Fran Leibowitz fan but I bought this movie hungry for her particular brand of acerbic insightful wit. There are certainly some sharp bon mot layered in to some depth between short bits about her friends, her life in New York, but ultimately I felt the woman had been softened and polished more than was necessary. For a friend Leibowitz fan this is an opportunity to meet the woman in a more conversational mode. The aspects of Fran the deliberate sharp minded wit and her explanations of her life and influences are balanced but I don't feel I know Miss Leibowitz that much better or have had the chance to enjoy the best of her mind.

The advantage of reading the work of Miss Leibowitz either as collected in her more famous books or in her occasional essays with Vanity Fair is that you meet her focused on a topic and exhausting what she has to say about that topic. In the movie you get a variety of high points, bits of narrative and some very interesting video moments of some of the people who help illustrate points she is making. It is not immediately clear, for example why James Baldwin in debate with Bill Buckley Junior is part of this movie but it does not take much to align their brilliantly worded debate points with the kind of New York experience Miss Leibowitz is describing. There are several efforts to distinguish wit defined as being sharp edge and judge mental as opposed to humor which is defined as friendly. While this point is fairly well made the discussion relating jazz rhythms and successful joke telling is abandoned as an incomplete thought.

Fran Leibowitz fans are logical audience for this documentary. Speaking as one I conclude that it is almost all that I would want from this kind of documentary.
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