2016, Movies

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (2016, Matt Tyrnauer)

I always thought Jane Jacobs was from Toronto. Shows you what I know.

This is an interesting documentary specifically about the battles between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs over roads in New York and more generally about the urban renewal and how to plan cities in general. It’s interesting, informative and thought-provoking. As one of the talking heads put it, it’s weird to learn about this “controversy” about something so many of us now feel is common sense: people should want to live where they live (and highways shouldn’t be built through neighboorhoods).

But there are a few things I want to bring up in mild criticism. One of them is that I think this should be called “Jacobs vs. Moses” or something like that that. It’s about her and her ideas but it’s not exactly about her life as the title implies. The film is a little scatthershot in how it is organized. Though I found it very watchable and enjoyable, I still found it didn’t unfold in the most logical manner. That’s often the case with these types of movies but with subject matter like this I think it could be a little more linear. Though there is some archival footage there are also lots of talking heads. That’s not always a problem but a movie like this, which is about cities, could use more voice-over (though there is lots) and less talking heads. Finally, there is the Glassian score, something that is a documentary cliche at this point.

All those criticisms may make it seem like I disliked the movie. I liked it and I think it’s worth watching. But there was nothing about the content I really wanted to criticize, so it was the stylistic choices that I quibble with because it’s easier to quibble with those. It’s a conventionally made documentary that could be made a bit better, but that doesn’t detract from the interesting content.


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