In the works since Rudolph Giuliani was still mayor and still policing the city with totalitarian quality-of-life tactics, Kevin Keating’s doc Giuliani Time hits the bricks right in time to piss off the “Draft Rudy for President” campaign heading toward 2008. As well it should: Keating, an experienced doc DP who worked on Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County U.S.A., opens fire on the Giuliani New Yorkers used to know, pre–9-11, the lisping, vampiric demagogue whose public wars on refugees, homeless people, and squeegee men won him national fame and local loathing. There’s no shortage of archival video at Keating’s disposal, but he still relies heavily on longtime Gotham bloodhound and Voice staffer Wayne Barrett to retrace the narrative of his Rudy!: An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani, burping up scores of incidents we have, or would rather have, forgotten by now, from Haitian corpses on Florida beaches when Rudy was assistant U.S. attorney to the incendiary experiences of Abner Louima and Amadou Diallo.
There are nauseating surprises, particularly a memorable moment in which Giuliani mocked and dismissed a call-in critic on his radio show who, Keating shows, has Parkinson’s and had been reduced to poverty by the mayor’s protocols. But Giuliani Time is best considered an incisive portrait of power seizure and class combat as it was performed, by the numbers, on the municipal level. It’s the Reagan paradigm in a teapot: Terrorize the citizenry with harmless bogeymen (the homeless, welfare moms, artists), claim credit for social change you did not create (crime was on a three-year decline before he took office, and dipped in most cities, regardless of policy), foster the illusion of order and control (where did the homeless go?), shout bootstrap ballyhoo about freeloaders (the “workfare” program was on its face a form of indentured servitude), and ignore all evidence to the contrary, civil rights, real poverty, and the First Amendment. Most of all, use publicity to lie so relentlessly that the populace and the media take the fiction of success (nearly all of Giuliani’s triumphant stats were bloated, skewed, or untrue) as their starting point.
After 9-11, a sick, scandalized lame-duck mayor became a national hero for simply keeping his composure on TV. Keating’s film is a comet out of the past, but it’s focused, if only circumstantially, on the future. Faithful Republican thug, Giuliani may be our destiny in national politics—a man who’s capable of boasting (during the last GOP convention) that upon seeing a body falling from the twin towers he turned to Bernard Kerik and said, “Thank God George Bush is our president!”