On the Myth of America’s Mayor
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The press materials for Kevin Keating’s “Giuliani Time” claim that the film “is certain to bust open the myth of Giuliani.” This, I’m afraid, is not true. The “myth” referred to – namely that Rudolph Giuliani was a good, even a great, mayor of New York who thus has earned his shot at national office – has long since been burst for the only people likely to see the film, namely those who already hate him.
For those who actually believe in the allegedly busted myth, however, there is nothing in it that could possibly tempt them to watch this film. All it has to offer are people – Wayne Barrett of the Village Voice, Rudy Crew, David Dinkins, John Hynes, Ed Koch, William Bratton, the Rev. Al Sharpton et many al. – who have been criticizing Mr. Giuliani for at least a decade, all saying exactly what they have said a thousand times before
The few pro-Giuliani voices are drowned out or placed in a context meant to suggest their profound error, in the filmmaker’s view. When someone introducing him in a speech at the Reagan library describes Hizzoner as “a true heir of the Reagan legacy,” we gather at once that this is supposed to be no compliment.
The film’s trip down memory lane is also illustrated with shots of what Mr. Keating obviously regards as the anti-Giuliani forces’ finest hours, namely scenes from street demonstrations about the Abner Louima, Brooklyn Museum, and Amadou Diallo affairs.
These scenes suggest how small a segment of the potential audience this film was meant to appeal to, as if the fact that demonstrators could regularly be turned out who were prepared to call the mayor various vile names were self-evidently an indication of his political and moral shortcomings, rather than theirs.
At one point we see the mayor saying that the police officers involved in the Diallo shooting had had excellent service records: “That’s their background,” he says. Then, without comment, we cut to a hysterical demonstrator saying “How can he say they’re excellent officers?”
Are we meant to notice the misunderstanding and misrepresentation, and thus either the stupidity or the dishonesty of the demonstrator? The unrelenting hostility of the film to Mr. Giuliani suggests, rather, that we are meant to understand it the same way ourselves.
Anyone who doesn’t hate Mr. Giuliani and wanders into this film by mistake may find himself, as I did, thinking the former mayor more attractive rather than less – if not on account of the substance of his views then on account of the unlovely, snarling quality of so many of his detractors in the film.
He himself is often seen laughing and is obviously a good sport, appearing in two different outlandish costumes, once as a woman and once as a painted savage, in skits designed to make fun of his own image as tough guy. Mr. Keating’s documentary is so lacking in humor or a sense of irony that it takes these satirical sketches as yet more damning evidence that he is the heartless wretch that everything else in the movie is designed to reveal him as.
Such humorlessness clearly differentiates Mr. Keating from his model, Michael Moore. Like Mr. Moore’s films, “Giuliani Time” is meant to be seen and can be appreciated only by those who already agree with the views expressed in it. It attempts to build upon Mr. Moore’s transformation of the documentary into a circus-like entertainment – except that it forgets to be entertaining. Rudy Giuliani, should he actually have ambitions for higher office, has nothing to fear from it.
I liked (sort of) “Once Upon a Time in the Midlands” (2002), the previous film by British director Shane Meadows. It was an affectionate and ironic updating and transplantation of the classic Western and its paradigmatic test of manhood.
But his new film, “Dead Man’s Shoes,” loses that light touch and the sense of continuity with its classic model. In seeking to reimagine the revenge tragedy for the therapeutic age, he negates it rather than updates it and only succeeds in saying what other films, most recently Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,” have already said better.
The film begins promisingly with Richard (Paddy Considine) waking up in a barn or shed as we hear him say in voiceover, “God will forgive them, forgive them and let them into heaven; I can’t live with that.”
It turns out that he’s a member of Britain’s elite parachute regiment who has returned to his Yorkshire home to take revenge on a gang of low-lifes and drug dealers who have done something terrible to his mentally retarded brother, Anthony (Toby Kebbell).
At first, Anthony seems unscarred as he chats happily with his brother. But it gradually emerges, in black-and-white flashbacks, what it is that Richard has against the bad guys, who are led by the scary Sonny (Gary Stretch). Except that Richard isn’t scared, and this completely unnerves both Sonny and his would-be tough guy followers.
About whether and how as well as why he wreaks his vengeance upon them I can say nothing without giving too much away, but in the denouement we find Richard confronting another one of the gang, Mark (Paul Hurstfield), and saying: “You, you were supposed to be a monster – now I’m the f****** beast. There’s blood on my hands, from what you made me do.”
Do you see where he’s going with this? Yeah, I thought so. Richard’s real misfortune, not too surprisingly, is that he can’t operate on the higher moral plane occupied by Shane Meadows and Stephen Spielberg and others of the movie-making elite. It’s too late for him but not for us, you’ll be glad to know.