By Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 26, 2006
St. Rudy, hear your doppelganger roar.
As documentaries go, "Giuliani Time" is not high art. It's more like a beware-a-gram for 280 million Americans who may be tempted to make the former New York mayor their next president.
Today's Rudy Giuliani is the sanctified hero of Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly buried in the rubble of the World Trade Center (in part because Hizzoner ignored really stupid critics and placed his emergency command center next door to the nation's biggest terror target, but whatever . . .), he emerged to lead a city. And he gave eloquent voice to loss. "The number of casualties," he told New Yorkers, "will be more than any of us can bear."
This Rudy is touted as a Republican presidential candidate, a man of wit, wisdom and affection.
Fortunately, "Giuliani Time" concentrates on the Other Rudy , the lip-curled, chalk-white fellow who stood astride New York for a decade. There's not much pretense of fairness to this long-winded documentary, but Rudy didn't waste time on fairness, either. He stomped into the municipal barn intent on gelding any who opposed him. He fired, he mimicked, he besmirched and he intimidated. He was the most operatic mayor New York had seen or heard since Fiorello LaGuardia in the 1930s.
He wrested concessions from unions, he halved the welfare rolls, he persuaded publishers to remove reporters who displeased him.
"Giuliani Time" nods too briefly at the historical context in which Hizzoner took office. New York, like other American cities, was beset by a crack and homicide epidemic. Murders stood at about 2,000 a year. Civic life was withering, and the black, Latino and white poor suffered the most.
Giuliani's genius -- and his nerve -- lay in proclaiming that this did not need to be so. He would apply modern policing techniques and pursue telltale signs of urban decay -- the graffiti-painted wall, the broken windows -- and bring crime to heel. It was a seductive message in 1993. As Myron Magnet, the intellectual custodian of the conservative Manhattan Institute and a fellow with Edwardian sideburns and matching jowls, says in the movie, "We realized we don't have to live this way."
But what's remarkable about Giuliani, and a point underlined in this flick, is how little sympathy he spared for those he ruled. He couldn't abide complaints from the poor and he was antagonistic to public schools. As Giuliani notes in the film: "My father used to threaten to put me in public school . . . and that was a really frightening thought."
Rudy couldn't even get along with Rudy -- in this case, his African American schools chancellor, Rudy Crew. In the documentary's most startling footage, Crew describes his efforts to befriend Giuliani, in hopes of persuading him to support reform of the public schools. They share yucks and cigars, but when the mayor pushed for school vouchers, it's safe to say the relationship didn't pan out.
"I find his policies to be so racist and class-biased," Crew says now. "I don't even know how I lasted three years. . . . He was barren, completely emotionally barren, on the issue of race."
The film tarries at that unfortunate pass in Giuliani's mayoralty: Hizzoner's tone-deaf reaction to a growing outcry about police brutality and thousands of questionable arrests. In 2000, undercover officers shot to death Patrick Dorismond, a black security guard, during a drug crackdown. (Dorismond, as it turns out, had no involvement with drugs. He thought the undercover cops were robbers, and was shot while resisting arrest.) Afterward, Giuliani directed his officials to unseal the man's juvenile record and opined that Dorismond was "no altar boy."
The movie leans heavily on Village Voice journalist Wayne Barrett's evisceration of a biography, titled "Rudy!" Barrett dug deep in Giuliani's biographical back yard and unearthed gems, not least the information that Mr. Clean's father was a stickup man and loan shark who swung a mean baseball bat. The film also shines a light on Giuliani's record as associate attorney general in Ronald Reagan's Justice Department, where he led efforts to deport Haitian boat people.
"Repression," Giuliani announces after returning from a meeting with President Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, "simply does not exist now" in Haiti.
Then there's the baroque weirdness that was Giuliani's second term, particularly a several-week stretch when the mayor announced that he had prostate cancer and was dropping out of the Senate race against Hillary Rodham Clinton, that he was leaving his wife (who learned of her husband's intents while watching the news conference on television) and taking up with his girlfriend.
Oh yeah, his divorce lawyer also mentioned that the mayor was (temporarily) impotent. Maybe this was more than we needed to know. But Giuliani and his id always were inseparable.
So the protagonist is outsized. How is the documentary as cinema? It drags a bit. Kevin Keating is a veteran cameraman who has worked on Academy Award-winning documentaries such as "When We Were Kings" and "Harlan County, U.S.A." And this movie has a touch of the latter film's agitprop. It probably won't convince partisans to switch sides.
Curiously, the movie suffers from not enough Rudy. The opera bouffe that was Rudy was always fascinating. He grooved on conflict -- it was his charm and his weakness. I wanted more of those news conferences where he lashed at "actually really jerky" questions before turning on his heel. Or the neighborhood meetings where he'd go pop-eyed and rhetorically slice open a schoolteacher who had the nerve to challenge Hizzoner on class size.
When "Giuliani Time" gives a glimpse of this Giuliani, it's mesmerizing. So, the smiling mayor fields a phone call during his weekly radio show. The caller is angry about city cuts to food stamps and Medicare aid for the disabled.
Hizzoner is a pit bull to the chase.
"Hey, John," Giuliani tells his caller, "what kind of hole are you in? There's something that's really wrong with you. . . . We'll send you psychiatric help because you really need it."
As it happens, the caller, John Hynes, needs real help. A disabled lawyer, he suffers from Parkinson's disease, and he's had his benefits cut off and he's running out of medicine.
Nothing chills the blood so thoroughly as the sight of a powerful man turned gleeful bully.
Giuliani Time (130 minutes, at Landmark's E Street Cinema) is not rated and contains profanity.