A new documentary about Rudy Giuliani premiering at the Tribeca Festival weaves in musical performances to give the ups and downs of the man once commonly referred to as “America’s Mayor” an operatic flavor.
“Rudy! A Documusical," directed by Jed Rothstein, is in large part a sober, conventional analysis of the unlikely trajectory of Giuliani's political life, from New York prosecutor, mayor and Sept. 11 hero to the pusher of bogus legal challenges to the 2020 election for then-President Donald Trump. But to fully convey the exaggerated highs and lows of Giuliani, Rothstein felt he needed a Greek chorus.
“His story is very operatic,” Rothstein said in an interview. “The music can bring out emotional truths that’s different than having someone talk about it. It’s certainly unconventional in a documentary, but it brings out its own truth. I wanted to have a film that captured the craziness of his arc.”
Rothstein initially considered crafting interludes of opera for his film — Giuliani is a noted opera fan — but quickly realized the demands of mounting even an interstitial opera were too much. He instead turned to Broadway musicians and performers to write and stage the musical numbers.
“Rudy! A Documusical,” which is seeking distribution at Tribeca, is the most significant documentary yet to attempt to reconcile one of the more confounding American politicians — once Time magazine's person of the year — of the last 30 years. The film arrives at Tribeca — a film festival that was partly born out of Sept. 11 — just as the House committee investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol is unspooling. Giuliani, whose law license was suspended for lying about the 2020 election, recently met for hours with the House committee.
Giuliani didn't participate in the documentary, though Rothstein says he made many attempts to convince him to sit for an interview. “Rudy!” instead features interviews with former New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton; Al Sharpton; journalist Andrew Kirtzman, author of “Rudy Giuliani: Emperor of the City” and Giuliani's press secretary in his first successful mayoral run, Ken Frydman. It also includes a forensic psychiatrist to help explain some of the actions around the Capitol riot.
To Rothstein, a longtime New Yorker whose films include “WeWork: Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn,” Giuliani's story is partly America's.
“What motivated him?” Rothstein says. “Why did he take this journey? What does his centrality to our recent history say about all of us?”
Some of the film's most vivid parts survey Giuliani's mayoral campaign against David Dinkins, running on a law-and-order platform that exploited racial dynamics. The film isn't entirely critical of Giuliani. Sifting through 9/11 footage only made Rothstein more impressed with his leadership at the time.
“He's a person who was always concerned with morals,” says Rothstein. “As he says, his father told him to look in the mirror when he shaves in the morning and be able to see himself with pride. And I wonder how he feels about that now.”