“Public Speaking” (“Speak!”)

Martin Scorsese

Through March 10, Film Forum is playing “Public Speaking,” Martin Scorsese’s portrait of cultural critic and woman about town, Fran Lebowitz, without whom, New Yorkers (and non-New Yorkers) would understand much less about the City, politics, art, gender, etc. And even if it were possible to gather the knowledge from multiple other sources, catching on wouldn’t be as funny.

In the documentary, there are two archival TV clips of a smug William F. Buckley verbally accosting James Baldwin and Gore Vidal (who unsurprisingly hold their own).  I had never associated Buckley with Scorsese but in a blip (couldn’t be distracted from the film longer and risk missing anything ), I knew (for me) there was a connection–dogs.

I shot Buckley in 1986, the same year I photographed Scorsese for the first time.  I arrived at Buckley’s maisonette on the Upper East Side, after practicing nodding, smiling and  keeping my politics to myself.  But it hadn’t been necessary. Buckley and his several gorgeous King Charles spaniels greeted me and the shoot passed without controversy.  I draped the dogs on him and we discussed his spaniels, past and current.

I wasn’t intimated to shoot Buckley but I was awe-struck and scared in advance of photographing Scorsese.  He arrived at the location, an office at Broadway Video, with his Bichon Frise, Zoe.  She and I instantly fell for each other and I put her in the frame, on a table in front of Scorsese.

I said,  “Mr. Scorsese, please look at the lens.”  He said, “Call me Marty.”  That would be impossible but the shoot has just started and I would have to address him again.  I proceeded, “Zoe,  look at the lens”  (she did, brilliant little Bichon) and then, “Okay, Zoe and, um,  Zoe’s daddy, look at the lens.”  And I kept shooting, calling one of the world’s greatest directors, “Zoe’s daddy.”  And as a dog nut (there was a poster for “The Color of Money” on the wall that featured a large picture of  top-billed Zoe above smaller ones of Paul Newman and Tom Cruise), he didn’t object.  (My pictures were nothing to email home about but two decades later, I did a better job for a MovieMaker cover.)

As they say at The Bark (based in Berkeley, CA), “dog is my co-pilot.”

William F. Buckley, NYC, 3/21/86

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