I got a taste of two competition categories last evening in DOCNYC's program. Lost Bohemia, a film in the METROPOLIS competition and Kati with an i, in the VIEWFINDERS. Lost Bohemia, screened at the NYU's Kimmel Center to a packed house on Friday night and more than a few were from the film itself (some pictured right). It is a deeply distressing story about long time (and I do mean long time, some there since the 40's) tenants of the Carnegie Hall studios that are served eviction notices due to "renovation" plans that don't include them. Each artist tenant, who has enjoyed beautiful work and living spaces with high ceilings, huge windows and sky lights, are all as uniquely eccentric and individualistic as the studios in which they inhabited for so long. Each residence, its own museum and stuffed novelty shop of sorts, reflecting the lives and passions of the colorful folks that lived there.
The ballerina and her studio was the first to get the boot and one by one they were picked off, seemingly without regard to their lack of outside resources or other needs to stay. Many whom were elderly and had done all, or the majority of their craft, within the walls of the studios. Editta Sherman's (a.k.a. The Duchess of Carnegie Hall who was in attendance for the Q&A last night in full Editta regalia) apartment was an enormous photography studio where she once did portraiture for the likes of Cecil B. DeMille, Henry Fonda and Cary Grant was reportedly the last to be forced out this year.
Carnegie Hall has rented and leased spaces to legendary faces and organizations over its 100 plus year existence. Marlon Brando, Paddy Chayefsky, Isadora Duncan, Agnes Moorehead, The American Academy of Dramatic Arts are but a few.
Part of what I feel is the importance of Josh Birdman Astor's Lost Bohemia is that it's probably the last document of this history. Another important aspect of the subjects, that isn't directly confronted in the film but gives glimpes, is how the senior and elderly population are so undervalued and in some situations, barely acknowledged. Forget about it if they're poor or (oh my!) artists, still trying to remain relevant in crafts that favor the young. It's that much more appalling that these tenants were evicted from a hall devoted to the musical arts. The larger question to me is why contemporary society doesn't appreciate and see real worth in one of the largest populations on our planet right now.
Lost Bohemia is a lovely tribute to those that gave it history and although it was heartbreaking, it was also incredibly entertaining. The characters are so, so terrific. I did notice the film doesn't venture far afield from its locale. Mr. Astor only brings his audience outside a couple times for protests. One at the Carnegie Hall main entrance with patrons weaving through the tenants as they try to disperse flyers and another where the actor, John Turturro, who once trained there, does what he can to give the tenants voice. Other than that, and a couple of exterior shots of the building itself, we are kept inside. I felt some frustration not seeing any of the actual fight against eviction besides the two protests and that we don't see our subject interact with the outer world, which is pretty different. The conclusion I came to however, is that Carnegie Hall studios were contained in a kind of bizarre time warp. Being that the community is insulated and removed from the rest of modern Manhattan, staying within the walls of that environment, even if it does feel claustrophobic at times, is fitting. The Duchess of Carnegie Hall and all her attendants liked their cocoon and wanted to stay there. I wish they could have.
As for Kati with an i, do you ever get a quick and vivid visual memory of your youth that takes place within a blink of an eye? A moment maybe triggered by smell, color or sound, and it sort of catapults you back in time? It's a palatable instant and you can remember exactly how it felt to be a teenager, where so many trivial events felt so intensely dramatic and then once in a great while they were. Robert Greene's film (cinematography by Sean Price Williams) has an intimate dream like quality. Those kinds of dreams that you can only remember parts of, but the glimpses you do recall are so tangible. Like youth and gone just as fast, those flashes are beautiful for an instant. If you want to prolong the experience, go see Kati with an i.