Scorsese: I loved the movie, and I loved making the movie. Every time I was editing the film, I still had the same reaction each time, to every story, every line. All the inflections, the tone, the dialogue, the music. I became very entranced by the form of it. I said, "Well, why don't we do this again? It'd be great to have a running commentary every week, so to speak." We tried a couple of things. Fran, you came up with the idea, ultimately, of the title and what it means.
Lebowitz: "Pretend It's a City" came about because this — as you surely noticed — was all shot before COVID. The title was something I had been yelling at people in the street for, like, 15 years. And when I say people, I mean tourists. People who stand in the middle of the sidewalk, chatting or taking pictures of each other, and impeding the flow of traffic. I was prone to yelling at people, "Move! Pretend it's a city, not your living room." So now, of course, because of the virus, people think: "Oh, that's such a poetic title [in a wistful tone]: Pretend It's a City. But it doesn't mean that. It means [aggressively] "Move! Pretend It's a City!"
You have both lived through numerous difficult periods in the history of the city. How do you think the pandemic has changed it?
Lebowitz: Of course, it's completely changed. But "change" is probably not the right way to put it, because change implies "and now it's this." It's in flux. It's not gonna stay the way it is now, because the way it is now is different than it was last week and certainly different than it was the beginning of shutdown. If I could see the future, I wouldn't buy the wrong lottery tickets every week. The one thing I know for sure, this idea New York is over, is just —
Scorsese: Out of the question.
Lebowitz: It's moronic. Anyone who thinks that, anyone who left because they thought that: Goodbye. There's no one who has ever been less needed in New York than someone who would do that. It is so dopey. People who say New York is not going to be the center of the culture anymore, I would say, "Really, where do you think it will be? Do you think it's gonna be Sarasota? Omaha? Honey, it's gonna be here."
By the way, not everything was perfect before the virus. It was perfect from the point of view of no fatal virus. That was definitely much better. But there might be things that improve.
Scorsese: I come from the Lower East Side. Elizabeth Street, just between Houston and Prince off of the Bowery. And back in 1950, you couldn't tell me that those buildings would still be there 70 years later, and the neighborhood would become rather chic. My building that I lived in is still there. The fact is that the buildings were not destroyed, which was the usual thing that was happening in Manhattan at the time — the Metropolitan Opera, Pennsylvania Station — but they stayed.
That's how the city regenerates like a phoenix and creates some different pockets of life and art and culture. The same way in Los Angeles too, really. I was there in the '70s. It was very different. [In "Mean Streets"] I was able to shoot some of the main streets for downtown L.A., for downtown New York. It's natural for the city to resurrect itself constantly.
How have your daily work routines been disrupted?