Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Pizza For My Thoughts

by Eli Gussen

So often a documentary will try to capture the supposed real experience of life in New York City, and fail miserably.  Usually this is because the filmmaker tries to incorporate larger-than-life characters, and give his audience just one somewhat overwhelming experience of life on this busy little island.  In the NY Pizza Confessions, Finbarr Wilbrink, instead focuses his camera on plain everyday people, and the result is genuine New York.  From the immigrant in Brooklyn with his large teeth; to the Jews in Queens with their roughshod, slightly confused, spice packet distribution center, which consists of a few desks, mountains of boxes, and a Scion; to the lonely-hearts-club, which masquerades as a pizza club; to the homeless man spouting touching and hard-learned life lessons, appropriately enough in front of the now defunct St. Vincent’s Hospital in the West Village; each subject is genuine and honest.  
            The documentary follows certain subjects and introduces us to many more, through street interviews--which early on get commandeered by a bossy writer on the west side.  Not happy with the way he is being interviewed, he takes control of the camera and hilariously navigates the streets soliciting opinions from all types: one woman who would choose pizza as a last meal, another man who swears by his pizza stone, a female passerby who seems slightly confused as to the point of the documentary begins to recite the United States Pledge of Allegiance...then cries.  
            The film is a perfect depiction of everyday life in New York City, because the filmmaker understands that there is no one quintessential New York experience.  Rather there are as many experiences as there are New Yorkers, and though each is different, they are all happening with random intersections, and points of absurdity.  
            With all of the opinions, and character, and stories of its subjects, the NYPC rarely strays from its base, and yet still allows viewers an intimate view of it’s subjects.  While debating the merits of thin- versus thick-crust, we learn that one server is a failed teacher; we learn that for some, dollar pizza is a late-night snack, whereas for others it is a means of survival, and for others still it is hell on the digestive system.  We learn from more than one interviewee that pizza is the one consistency in life.   Through regime changes, or relationship changes, or life changes one can always go to Patsy’s or Ray’s or Joe’s or Lombardi’s or John’s, or any of the thousands of other local spots in these five Burroughs and enjoys a little slice of solace.  It’s this consistency, and the fact that it can be tailor made to each person’s specific tastes, which makes pizza the perfect New York food, because, like it’s pizza, the city too has specific parts with which to fit any taste or lifestyle.  And from thin crust to deep dish, from plain to everything, from salad to meat lovers, all pizza in New York has one thing in common: the Mexicans who serve it to us!      

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