Saturday, September 9, 2017

DVDebut for Matt Tyrnauer's timely, thoughtful doc, CITIZEN JANE: BATTLE FOR THE CITY

Of course Jane Jacobs is the hero is this new documentary, while Robert Moses is its chief villain. This is to be expected of any work that explores our cities, their past and (we can only hope) their future. What is maybe not so expected is that the movie fairly teems with humanity, diversity and life. I suspect that Ms Jacbos, who died more than a decade ago, would be pleased with what producer/director Matt Tyrnauer (shown below) has put together here. CITIZEN JANE: BATTLE FOR THE CITY is a combination of history, personality, struggle and (for a change) success in preventing the powers-that-be from imposing their too-often stupid and destructive ideas upon cities such as New York and (eventually) Toronto. Jacob's landmark book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is explored at length and in some depth, and bits of her glorious writing are prominently featured, too. Together all this makes for an exultant look back at what can happen when a woman who's both a talented writer with smart and important ideas also discovers her ability to organize and protest, in the process garnering some amazing results.

Mr. Tyrnauer has filled his film with great archival footage -- of New York, Philadelphia, Jacobs (and her nemesis, Moses) and especially of the wonderful diversity and energy present in cities that ought to be harnessed, rather than destroyed by the kind of projects of which Mr Moses was so in favor.

We see Le Corbusier and how his work was often bastardized in the name of modernity to create sterile and non-productive low-income housing. Instead, as Jacobs told us, the city should be a place where "enterprises and people are mutually supportive."

We're there with Jane and others, as she leads the fight to prevent Moses' highway through Washington Square Park. His now infamous quote that "Nobody's against us except a bunch of mothers" is shown to be all too true -- and effective.

Jacobs' real test comes as she opposes Moses and his ludicrous Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have destroyed the entire neighborhood of Soho and displaced thousands of citizens. Her goal was not to prevent change, but to manage it well, rather than simply "freezing time."

Sure, the film is anti-Moses, but it does give the man, along with some of his better projects, his due. But mostly it's about the miracle of the city -- when it works the way it should and could. It's all about "the safety of the street and the freedom of the city," two ideas that Jacobs cherished. Best of all, perhaps, the documentary helps us understand Jacobs' "new" theory about cities and how she arrived at it. The final quote we get from her glorious book, describing the city as a kind of wonderful dance, is so perfect and beautifully realized that you may want to watch the movie all over again, just to hear it once more, spoken against those enticing visuals. (Jacob's voice is read by Marisa Tomei, while Moses' words come via Vincent D'Onofrio.)

From IFC Films and running a just-about-perfect 93 minutes, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City will hit the street on DVD this coming Tuesday, September 12 -- for purchase and/or rental. 

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