NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s dignified handling of the World Trade Center disaster has fostered one of the most startling popularity boosts in recent U.S. politics. Docu featurette “Rudyland” reminds that, prior to Sept. 11, he had plenty of increasingly vocal detractors. While pic may be ill-timed, it nonetheless provides fascinating counterpoint to the current sky-high prospects enjoyed by a public-office career that’s seldom lacked controversy.
Republican mayor seized a moment of Manhattan voter discontent in his first term, cleaning up dicey neighborhoods — most famously Times Square — by playing hardball with street crime/vagrancy, aggressively pursuing corporate developers, deploying often archaic, seldom-enforced laws to shutter less-tourist-oriented bizzes like porn shops and nightclubs. But his often heavy-handed, imperious approach (especially when “punishing” the Brooklyn Museum of Art for an exhibit he deemed offensive) soon ruffled freedom-of-expression forces. Communities some considered part-and-parcel to Big Apple diversity — street artists, abandoned-building squatters, transsexuals, the ethnic poor — likewise began to protest perceived harassment, with several high-profile police brutality cases ballasting their complaints.
Giuliani pointedly did not make himself available to be interviewed by filmmakers. But plentiful press conference excerpts and other clips illustrate his my-way-or-the-highway approach (e.g., “If I can do it, it’s not art”), which pic sees as pitting narrowly defined “quality of life” concerns against a more liberal “soul of the city.” His statement, “I don’t enforce morals, I enforce laws,” holds up none too well here.
Touching just briefly on his nasty, aborted Senate race against Hillary Clinton, “Rudyland” places primary focus on Gotham’s drastic “Disneyfied” transformation during consecutive mayoral terms. Interviewees run a wide (if largely Giuliani-hostile) gamut, from activists and ousted neighborhood residents to Rudy’s predecessor, onetime supporter-turned-harsh-critic Ed Koch. Narration read by Susan Sarandon is calmly detached, letting various subjects do the spleen-venting.
Co-directors Matthew Carnahan and John Philp contrive a package paced like a New York minute –compressing info in flashy yet clear, chronologically ordered form that doesn’t push its musicvid/experimental aspects too far. Pic’s prospects might be raised by addition of a short epilogue noting his post-Sept. 11 bounce resurgence — one so potent Giuliani hinted at willingness to run again as a write-in candidate, despite having hit the legal term-limit endpoint. Tech aspects turn low-budget resources to vivid, scrappy advantage.