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.
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.