REVIEW: "Citizen Jane: Battle for the City"

A fascinating documentary captures the showdown, half a century ago, between the activist Jane Jacobs and the Trumpian urban planner Robert Moses: a fight for the future of New York.

“Citizen Jane: Battle for the City,” directed by the gifted journalist and documentarian Matt Tyrnauer (“Valentino: The Last Emperor”), tells the story of a David-and-Goliath fight over urban planning that took place more than 50 years ago. Yet the movie just about pulses with contemporary resonance. It has moments of uncanny overlap with this week’s election, and it explores the scope and meaning of that overly familiar thing — the city — in ways that will box open your thinking. It’s a finely woven tapestry that feels as relevant and alive as the place you live.

It’s also got great sparks of conflict. The movie, which kicked off the seventh DOC NYC film festival last night, features two nearly mythological antagonists. In one corner is Robert Moses, the scabrous New York power broker and construction czar who, in the years after World War II, transformed the city by gutting its poorer sections and erecting miles of concrete-slab housing projects and snaking superhighways. In the other corner is Jane Jacobs, activist and author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961), who led an uprising against Moses’ dehumanized dream of a paved-over utopia. She fought his plans to destroy Washington Square Park, to bulldoze the beautiful historic buildings of Greenwich Village, and to bisect lower Manhattan with an expressway that would likely have been the most ruinous — and influential — disaster of urban “renewal” in the history of the United States.

It’s no trick figuring out who to root for, but the fascination of “Citizen Jane” isn’t just in seeing how Jacobs took on the system and won. The movie invites you to sink into her challengingly supple and vibrant analysis of why cities, which we mostly take for granted, are in fact rather magical places. Even if you live in one and think you know it inside out, you come away from “Citizen Jane” understanding, more than you did going in, the special chemistry of what makes a city tick.

It comes from the ground up — and that’s the tricky thing to see, since urban planning generally occurs from the top down. Moses started out in the ’30s as a progressive thinker, but his idea of what it would take to make cities better evolved into a Teutonic, machine-age vision of monolithic apartment buildings in massively organized rows and “clean” streetscapes erected in place of all the neighborhood hurly-burly. We see Moses in clips from the ’40s and ’50s, a blustery, dour-looking man whose eyes gleam with reptilian cunning, and each time he talks about making things better, he expresses such high-handed contempt for those who’ll be displaced that he sounds like he’s talking about roaches. His “philosophy” walks a thin line between improvement and incineration.

Jane Jacobs rejects all of this, but not just on basic common moral human grounds. At heart, she’s an anthropologist, and her subject is the mysterious spirituality of neighborhoods: the way they evolve, over generations, into thriving organic places that are nurturing and protective and are embedded with stories that rise out of the streets. Jacobs makes the point that true neighborhoods, with clusters of small businesses and people sitting on stoops, are far safer than the stark moonscapes proposed by Moses — there are more people around, so the streets are more naturally patrolled. (Sure enough, once housing projects started to get built, they turned out to be far more dangerous places.) More than just “blocks,” they’re human networks, enveloping hives.

This is only Tyrnauer’s second feature, but he has taken a subject that might have been dryly academic and turned it into a visual hymn to the streets of New York — to how their development, over the 20th century, influenced everything around them. Tyrnauer interpolates clips from the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, to the point that the past starts to feel like a living thing. New York was built, but more than that it metastasized, so when Moses treated low-income sections of it as a “cancer” that had to be cut out (he would happily have razed Harlem), he was violating the city’s essence.

Jacobs’ first fight with him is over his attempt to extend Fifth Avenue through the center of Washington Square Park. Sure, it’s just one park, but ask anyone in London or Paris — or the stroller-wheeling mothers of Greenwich Village — how serenely uplifting a park can be. What Moses really wanted to do was take a gathering place and put a spike through it. Jacobs, who at this point was an unknown journalist thought of by her foes as a “housewife,” wrote letters, went to meetings, formed and led a coalition, and in the end shot the plan down.

With her long thin nose, graying hair, and elfin grin, Jacobs bears a striking resemblance to the film critic Pauline Kael (with a hint of a female Poindexter), and she’s got some of Kael’s playful imperiousness. Born in 1916, she’s a bohemian scamp who starts off writing about the city for places like Vogue. By the time she reaches her forties, she has evolved into an activist, but in the least self-righteous way possible; she wants to preserve her home. In the duel between herself and Moses, gender is far from incidental, and not just because Jacobs emerged out of the same second-wave-feminist era defined by writers like Betty Friedan (“The Feminine Mystique”) and Rachel Carson (“Silent Spring”). Jacobs’ vision of the city was bravely and spectacularly feminine: She viewed it as a teeming enigmatic cooperative, a garden of earthly delights, whereas Moses, offering a degraded version of the ideas of the Swiss-French architect and urban planner Le Courboisier (who’d created the template of the future presented at the 1939 World’s Fair), was all about abstract masculine dominion: tall hard buildings, no hint of mess, a city that was nothing but sharp edges.

Since we’re talking about buildings, it’s no stretch to say that there’s something more than a little Trumpian about Robert Moses. His drive to erect looming, impersonal housing was a form of control; his desire to sweep everything else away was even worse — a fascism of the spirit. “Citizen Jane” provides stunning evidence that as the population explodes, more and more cities around the world are being built in the spirit of Robert Moses: acres of skyscraper cages for the anonymous horde. Yet the spirit of Jane Jacobs is heard each time a neighborhood is allowed to evolve. What she fought and defeated, most dramatically by keeping a highway out of lower Manhattan, was the prototype for urban planning that would steamroll everyone it was supposed to be planning for. Jacobs insisted that the city is a place for the people. That’s why it can’t just “serve” them; it has to express who they are.

c/o Owen Gleiberman | Variety

DOC NYC Opener ‘Citizen Jane’ Acquired By Sundance Selects

Sundance Selects has acquired U.S. rights to Citizen Jane: Battle For The City, Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary that will open the DOC NYC festival tonight. A 2017 release is being eyed for the docu, which had its world premiere at Toronto this year.

Citizen Jane chronicles the life and work of author-activist Jane Jacobs, author of The Death And Life Of Great American Cities, and how she changed the way we look at cities and urban living. It details her most dramatic battles for the city in the 1960s, when she went up against New York power broker Robert Moses. At stake was whether the city’s historic neighborhoods, including Greenwich Village, SoHo, Little Italy, and TriBeCa, would stay intact or be torn apart by expressways and urban-renewal projects. The docu offers a lesson in the power of the people to become active in their own cities.

The pic was produced by Robert Hammond, Corey Reeser, Jessica Van Garsse and Tyrnauer, who also helmed 2008’s Valentino: The Last Emperor. Pierre Lagrange, Bernard Lagrange, and Juliet Page exec produced.

The deal was negotiated by Sundance Selects/IFC Films’ Arianna Bocco and Submarine on behalf of the filmmakers.

c/o Patrick Hipes | Deadline

Toronto: ‘Citizen Jane’ Sells Key Foreign Territories

“Citizen Jane: Battle for the City” has sold several key international territories after screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, Variety has learned.

The documentary is Matt Tyrnauer’s follow-up to 2008’s “Valentino: The Last Emperor,” a look at designer Valentino Garavani. His new project trades the world of high fashion for urban politics, chronicling the battle between activist Jane Jacobs and power broker Robert Moses in the 1960s over plans to construct a roadway through the heart of Greenwich Village. The film isn’t just a look at that the contentious chapter in New York politics, it is also a meditation on community organizing and the pull and passions of major metropolises.

As part of the deals, Madman Entertainment has acquired all rights in Australia and New Zealand; NonStop Entertainment has nabbed all rights in pan-Scandinavia, Baltics, Iceland and Benelux; and Dogwoof has landed U.K. distribution rights and the right to represent foreign rights in all other territories, excluding North America. A domestic deal will be announced shortly.

The deals were negotiated by David Koh and Josh Braun of Submarine on behalf of the producers and director, along with Anna Godas, CEO of Dogwoof; Paul Wiegard, managing director of Madman Entertainment; and Jakob Abrahamsson, CEO of NonStop Entertainment.

Tyrnauer also produced the film with Robert Hammond, co-founder and executive director of New York City’s Friends of the High Line, and Corey Reeser. Pierre Lagrange, Bernard Lagrange, and Juliet Page are the executive producers.

In a statement Tyrnauer said he was heartened from the response to the film by buyers and audiences in Toronto.

“I am especially happy that the message of the film as well as its story and characters are seen by distributors as resonating for a global audience in a theatrical setting,” he said. “To have so many worldwide theatrical deals in place is a signal to us that the message of Jane Jacobs and the broad topics of the film concerning urbanization and the importance of activism to make better cities is a universal concern, and that we have managed tackle a global subject in an accessible way.”

In addition to directing, Tyrnauer is a Vanity Fair contributor, writing stories on a range of topics, from Gore Vidal’s years on the Amalfi Coast to the influence of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

c/o Brent Lang | Variety

Doc NYC Opening Night Film Announced: Citizen Jane

DOC NYC announced it will open its seventh annual edition with the U.S. premiere of Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, directed by Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor) on Thursday, November 10 at the SVA Theatre. The film documents the historic conflict in the 1960s between the writer and activist Jane Jacobs and the legendary power broker/urban-renewal tsar Robert Moses over plans to tear down much of New York City and replace it with highways and austere housing projects. (The film is co-produced by High Line co-founder Robert Hammond.)

“We couldn’t pick a more fitting film for New York City,” said DOC NYC artistic director Thom Powers. “We take inspiration from Jane Jacobs’ belief in the power of culture to enrich a community.”

Tickets go on sale in Mid-October.

Cannes: Two Hot Hollywood-Themed Docs to Get Sneak Screenings (Exclusive)

Matt Tyrnauer's 'Scotty' — based on Scotty Bowers' sex-fueled Hollywood tell-all 'Full Service' — will include anecdotes certain to rock Hollywood, including the sexual exploits of Lana Turner, Bette Davis, Danny Kaye, Gore Vidal and Dominick Dunne.

An adaptation of Scotty Bowers' sex-fueled Hollywood tell-all Full Service is hitting the big screen in Cannes, where 11 minutes of footage will be unveiled Wednesday.

The Matt Tyrnauer-helmed documentary, titled Scotty — based on the dishy best-seller that recounts the sex lives of a slew of icons including Cary Grant, Vivien Leigh and Katharine Hepburn — has been quietly in the works for years. Submarine — the company behind such Oscar-winning documentaries as Citizenfour, Searching for Sugar Man and Man on Wire — is introducing the film to buyers at the Cannes film market.

The footage will run back to back with another Hollywood-themed doc, Jason Aron's Back in Time, which marks the first feature-length documentary about the classic Back to the Future franchise. Back in Time will screen as a 95-minute rough cut (Submarine also is presenting that film to buyers). The double-bill will take place at noon at Gray Screening Room 4.

Tyrnauer's documentary will contain even more revelations than Bowers' 2012 memoir, which courted controversy by revealing the author's bisexual liaisons with Grant and Leigh. Scotty is certain to rock Hollywood with new juicy anecdotes about the sexual exploits of Lana Turner, Bette Davis, Alan Ladd, Estelle Getty, ‎Ava Gardner, Danny Kaye, Gore Vidal and Dominick Dunne. Bowers, a former Marine turned pimp to the stars who is 90, participated in Scotty. Submarine's Josh Braun is producing.

Back in Time, which is produced by Lee Leshen, offers new footage of the Back to the Future time machine as well as interviews with Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale, Lea Thompson, Christopher Lloyd and Michael J. Fox, among others. Louis Krubich executive produced.

Earlier at the market, Submarine boarded the new documentary Chris Burden: Double Bind about the late artist, whose sculptures and installations are featured in collections at LACMA, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Whitney, MoMA and the Tate Gallery in London. Submarine is co-financing the film and is partnering with Dogwoof on international sales. Tim Marrinan and Richard Dewey directed the film, which they will produce alongside David Koh, Josh Braun and Dan Braun. Stanley Buchthal and Simone Haggiag are executive producing.

c/o Tatiana Siegel | The Hollywood Reporter

High flyer: a vision of Jean Nouvel's addition to New York's soaring skyline

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At Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on Monday night, a sleek crowd, including architect Richard Meier and former New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, gathered to fete French architect Jean Nouvel, whose tallest building to date is under construction next door at 53 West 53rd St.

Dubbed 53W53, the 1,050-feet-high residential skyscraper makes use of air rights purchased from MoMA and other nearby buildings to provide views of Central Park and the city's skyline. 'When you are inside, you will feel you are in the sky in New York City,' says Nouvel. Officially, the event at MoMA - during which Vanity Fair contributing editor and filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer interviewed the soft-spoken architect - marked the commencement of sales of the tower's 140 luxury units. Unofficially, the swanky affair that spilled out into MoMA's Sculpture Garden was the beginning of the PR machine surrounding the building, slated for completion in 2018.

The elegant tower, with its glass and exposed steel diagrid structure, will create one-of-a-kind floor plans in the condominiums, ranging from one-bedrooms to duplex penthouses and full-floor layouts. Each unit will have sloping windows and muscular, slanting columns, giving New York-based interior designer Thierry W. Despont a challenging set of parameters.

53W53, which joins Manhattan's new slew of supertalls, has weathered its own share of controversy since it was announced in 2007. Torquing at subtle, oblique angles ('like a snake,' says Nouvel) as it tapers to a sharp summit, the tower was originally slated to be 1,250 feet tall, but neighbours balked and the city asked the architect and developer Hines to lower it (Hines is partnering with Goldman Sachs and Singapore-based Pontiac Land Group on the development).

Then in January 2014, MoMA, who sold 53W53's 18,000-square-foot lot to Hines and Goldman Sachs in 2007, decided to raze the adjacent Folk Art Museum, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. A future museum expansion by Diller Scofidio + Renfro will link to three of 53W53's lower floors which will be accessed from and connected to MoMA. The replacement of the Folk Art Museum raised cries of protest from architects, critics and the public, who lauded its small galleries and faceted bronze façade. Nouvel, who said the Folk Art Museum was 'a very interesting building' and claimed to be shocked by its disappearance from the site next to his tower, said that keeping the Folk Art's façade and gutting the interior, as was once suggested, didn't make sense.

On Monday night, Tyrnauer showed a brief clip of a documentary he is making about Nouvel before interviewing the architect. When Tyrnauer asked Nouvel about his creative process, he replied that he has to spend some amount of time lying in bed with an eye mask on and earphones in, thinking about his work. 'I don't want to see the light,' he said, eliciting laughs from the crowd. 'The light is inside.'

c/o Laura Raskin | Wallpaper

HBO, 'Valentino' Helmer Matt Tyrnauer Plan Pic On Socialite Wife Of Johnny Carson's Producer Freddie De Cordova

On the 20th anniversary of Johnny Carson’s final Tonight Show, HBO has optioned Once Upon A Time In Beverly Hills, an article Matt Tyrnauer wrote in the March 2011 issue of Vanity Fair. HBO will develop it into a movie about the long, unusual relationship between Beverly Hills socialite Janet de Cordova and her longtime housekeeper Gracie Covarrubias. Tyrnauer, who helmed the documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor, will direct, and John Hoffman will write the script.

Janet was the wife of Freddie de Cordova, Carson’s long time Tonight Show producer. She came to Hollywood hoping to use her beauty to become an actress, but through de Cordova she found her way into the center of the social swirl as one of the true socialites of her era. The de Cordova couple lived lavishly, and threw the most opulent A-list parties populated by the likes of Gary Cooper, Jack Benny, Frank Sinatra, Billy Wilder, Dean Martin, Jimmy Stewart, Lew Wasserman, and Ray Stark. In the process, she spent way more than de Cordova earned. By her side always was Covarrubias, her Mexican servant who tended to de Cordova’s every need, down to periodically stirring the drink de Cordova held in her hand. When her husband died, de Cordova was forced to sell her Beverly Hills estate. Eventually, she went to live in Mexico with Covarribias, who, to the surprise of de Cordova, had used her years of earnings to build a house that was a miniature replica of the home de Cordova was forced to sell. All of her friends had abandoned her or died, but not Covarribias.

The film will be executive produced by Langley Park’s Kevin McCormick, Management 360’s Darin Friedman, Wendy Stark, and Tyrnauer.

c/o Mike Fleming, Jr. | Deadline