What Do You Call a Broadcast Billionaire Who Hates the First Amendment?

How about, "His honor, the Mayor?"
On the whole, I've been pleasantly surprised by Michael Bloomberg's performance as mayor of New York. Unlike his predecessor, he has actually tried to be a mayor for the whole city, not just the think-tankers at the Manhattan Institute and a handful of other aging white men. And he is open to appeals to reason.

Except, it would seem, when it comes to First Amendment rights. As a case in point, one could refer to the way the city handled protests during the Republican National Convention, but for our purposes -- this is, after all, a blog about matters cinematic -- it might be more useful to direct your attention to this story on INDIEWire about the attempt to revise the rules governing film and photo permits. As you can see from Agnes Varnum's excellent reporting, the city is trying -- whether by design or foolishness -- to strangle documentarians and independent filmmakers in red tape.

Look, I'm a First Amendment absolutist by both ideology and temperament. (Okay, I'm a Stalinist by temperament. You got a problem with that, you can take it up with my right fist.) And as a writer I believe that the First Amendment is not some high-flown piece of idealism -- this is a bread-and-butter issue for me and my colleagues. As the Lenny Bruce character pleads in the Julian Barry play Lenny, "Don't take away my words!" Needless to say, for a filmmaker, the right to shoot is tantamount to the same thing. But I also recognize a compelling need for the State to balance the rights of ordinary citizens -- those who aren't making a movie -- their ability to navigate the streets, their right to privacy and so on.

What it comes down to is this: the city of New York wants the money, the attention and the prestige that comes from being one of the most-filmed places on earth. It's good for business, good for tourism and good for the ego. But it doesn't want the messiness of having to deal with the process of filming. If there were a way to make movies without actually filming on the streets, city officials would be all for it. As it is, they're stuck, so they try to make life difficult for those who have the least clout. Ironically, those are the people whose shoots involve the least disruption. In this respect, Mayor Mike is no different from his predecessor, Savanarola. If they could turn the entire city over to the Disney organization, they would.

At any rate, I suggest you visit the website of the new organization that has come together to fight this battle for the indies, Picture New York. The filmmaker you save may be your own.

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I know what you're thinking.

Is he not going to say something about Ingmar Bergman?

Sure, why not?

Anyone who knows me well is aware that Bergman has never been one of my favorite filmmakers. As a director of performances he has few equals and I suspect his theater work was extraordinary. But I have always felt that he had little affinity for "motion pictures" in the simplest sense of "pictures that move." Watching Wild Strawberries for a few minutes on TCM several months ago, I was struck once more by how studied the compositions are, what wonderful still photos they make, and how clumsily Bergman gets from one splendidly composed frame to another. To be blunt, with a very few exceptions, he never seemed a natural, and I always felt like I was being beaten over the head with his seriousness. And yet . . . .

Anyone who could make Monika, Smiles of a Summer Night, Persona, The Touch, Scenes from a Marriage and Wild Strawberries (without the opening dream sequence) is not an artist to be dismissed with a shrug. I could happily live forever without sitting through The Seventh Seal ever again -- if ever there was a film that seems to have been made for the express purpose of allowing callow undergraduate boys to impress unsuspecting coeds with their seriousness . . . .

But there probably aren't ten filmmakers in history who were better with actors, and that is no small thing.


Comments

Steven said…
I wrote to another friend yesterday on the passing of the great theater director, Ingmar Bergman that a great filmmaker of that generation, the greatest living filmmaker still surrives. Now, the Great Michelangelo Antonioni is now gone before his 95th birthday.
The film world is a state of mourning.
Steve Elworth
Bloomberg -- Personally, I think he's been a terrible mayor. He did nicely on the minor stance of ending smoking in restauarants and bars. And his one major accomplishment is bringing control of the school board back to the mayor -- not that he's done much yet with that control but it's taken decades to accomplish so getting the control so the next mayor can do something useful is important. Other than that? nothing. He made a mockery of First Amendment rights, closed off central Park to the public events except for corporate shindigs. He wasted years on the idiotic football stadium -- which is a terrible decision business-wise as every study will show. (At least a baseaball stadium would have activities 80 days a year instead of six or so for football.) And his public funds to expand the convention center -- when every new convention center built around the country in the last 15 years has proven a money-losing boondoggle - is embarrassing. Then he wasted time trying to bring the budget busting Olympics to NYC which would bring him honor and us debt.Finally, the quality of life has plummetted, especially in the subways. Homeless people, beggars, aggressive musicians -- it's as bad as 91 when I first moved here. I'm ashamed to bring tourists into the subway. No, he doesn't technially control it but is he making noise about this dterioration -- especially when he wants to drive more people into the subway system just as it's reached max capacity AND wants to raise the fares? Nope.