UP IN CARNEGIE HALL

Lost Bohemia

Josef Astor, director

2010

Historically, American documentaries  —  with ravishing exceptions like The Plow That Broke the Plains and Louisiana Story  —  have tended to be aural rather than visual experiences.  Documentary films made by Americans have almost always suffered from over-narraton.  You can’t even enjoy a sunset behind a mountain lake without an obtrusive, unnecessary voice telling you that you are looking at a beautiful sunset behind a beautiful mountain lake.  This approach to film as illustrated lecture stems in part from the American cultural fear of even a moment of silence.  Go to any art museum today, and you can observe visitors, sprouting wires from their ears, who prefer to listen about paintings and sculptures rather than view them.

But most of the vital talk in Josef Astor’s Lost Bohemia comes from his several characters, a group of artsy folk who until recently lived in studio apartments atop Carnegie Hall.  The camera captures their cluttered dwellings, their past and ongoing work and the maze of corridors upstairs in the Hall.  The soundtrack delivers their own words of philosophy, their ruminations about work, their humor and joie de vivre.

We see and hear pianist Don Shirley, photographer Bill Cunningham, singer Jeanne Beauvais, acting teachers and actors, ballet instructors and dancers, and composers as well.  We glimpse Marian Seldes and hear John Turturro and learn about previous tenants like Paddy Chayevsky and Marlon Brando.  Most of the tenants we meet are elderly, but Astor’s film reveals them as hearty in spirit. Their eyes are alive with youthfulness.

My favorite is photographer Editta Sherman, ninety-five, working on ninety-six, when filmed here.  She radiates unsentimental goodness  —  grandeur of soul, I find myself wanting to say.  Even when working hard at preserving the arts community’s way of life as they all receive eviction notices when the hall is scheduled for renovation, she is determined to confront this without anger or hostility.

Photogapher Josef Astor has brought to his film Lost Bohemia his repect for all the tenants and his own love of his own craft.  He has given us a work that is simple, focused and revealing.

Next Post:  November 14

See you at the movies,

Rick

One thought on “UP IN CARNEGIE HALL

  1. I’m obsessing about your point regarding the over-narration of American documentaries, something I had never thought of but thought “That is absolutely true!” as soon as I read it. A fascinating and strange choice for a visual medium. I would like to expand this idea to consider the fact that we are in the age of dvds that come with the option to view the film with director’s comments or actors’ comments running as the movie itself runs. It’s the filmic equivalent of the museum visitor’s with the earphone lectures. Why can’t’ Americans watch a movie in (visual) silence? And what is the legacy of Talkies in this conversation?
    It also sends me on a tangent of the almost lost art of film scores and the way music is used in contemporary film.
    Thoughts?

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