There's no ill wind, the old saying goes, that doesn't blow somebody some good, and the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, blew all kinds of good Rudolph Giuliani's way.
As the most visible public figure to do and say all the right things in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center, the New York City mayor became an unblemished hero not only to his constituents but to people all over the world. That's a perception a documentary called "Giuliani Time" wants to counteract.
It's not what Giuliani did on and after 9/11 that troubles director Kevin Keating, it's what he did in his previous eight years as mayor. This detailed, thorough doc is a correction in course, an examination of how the mayor's positions on a series of complex issues put him so behind the eight ball in his hometown that if those attacks hadn't occurred, his political career might have been over.
Filmmaker Keating, who worked as a director of photography for documentarians Barbara Kopple and the Maysles brothers, is aware of the complexities of the life of someone who rose to prominence at age 36 as the youngest associate attorney general in U.S. history.
Though it wasn't revealed till the publication of a biography by the Village Voice's Wayne Barrett, Giuliani's upbringing had a Sopranos quality about it. His father had spent a year in prison for armed robbery and helped run a bar in Queens that was known as a wiseguy hangout.
Still, even Barrett acknowledges that as the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Giuliani was "one of the most effective prosecutors against white-collar crime" in New York history.
In all three of his runs for mayor (the first, against David Dinkins, was unsuccessful), Republican Giuliani was a candidate made for a city obsessed with safety.
"He was a one-trick magician, and that was crime," says Ruth Messinger, one of his unsuccessful opponents. Yet for all the talk that he was a mayor who "brought joy, safety and greatness back to New York City," "Giuliani Time" claims the mythology doesn't always stand up to scrutiny.
For one thing, statistics indicate crime in the city began to decline before Giuliani's election. For another, the policemen who made that decline possible were hired when Dinkins was mayor. Finally, there is no consensus that the celebrated "broken windows" school of policing that emphasized dealing with minor infractions such as vandalism really was a factor in suppressing major crime rates.
What New York's aggressive "We Own the Night" policing policy did do was create fertile ground for several scandals involving overzealous officers. This included pumping 41 bullets into an unarmed man named Amadou Diallo and beating and sodomizing a man in custody, Abner Louima.
The mayor's other controversial programs including forcing people off welfare, which critics said created no real jobs and merely enlarged the underground economy, and a hostility to 1st Amendment rights that led to courts ruling against the Giuliani administration in 22 of 26 cases.
More than this, Giuliani consistently fell out of favor with people who had once been closely allied to him. Former New York (and now Los Angeles) Police Chief William J. Bratton says Giuliani "rules by intimidation and fear," and former city schools chancellor Rudy Crew says, "there's something very deeply pathological about Rudy's humanity. He was barren, completely emotionally barren on the issue of race."
Positive assessments of Giuliani, such as being called "compassionate" by Donald Trump, don't carry the same weight.
With revelations of extramarital affairs inflaming the news media, and even the loyal police starting to turn against him, Giuliani looked to be at the end of the road.
With the former mayor currently enjoying one of the rare second acts in American political life, "Giuliani Time" does a strong job of reminding us what the first one was like.
MPAA rating: Unrated
A Cinema Libre release. Director Kevin Keating. Producers Keating, Williams Cole. Cinematographers Mustafa Barat, Elia Lyssy, Wolfgang Lehner. Editor Peter Tooke. Running time: 1 hour, 58 minutes.
Exclusively at Landmark's Westside Pavilion Cinemas, 10800 Pico Blvd. (at Overland Avenue) (310) 281-8223.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times