For over a century, Carnegie Hall rented affordable studio apartments atop the famous music hall to artistic tenants such as Marlon Brando, Paddy Chayefsky and Isadora Duncan. As a ...
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For over a century, Carnegie Hall rented affordable studio apartments atop the famous music hall to artistic tenants such as Marlon Brando, Paddy Chayefsky and Isadora Duncan. As a privileged tenant, director Josef Birdman Astor began to videotape his neighbors whose lives intersected with decades of artistic history, but his project changed when the landlord served everyone with eviction notices for a conversion to offices. Astor chronicles the protracted battle to save the apartments and pays homage to their rich heritage. Written by
"Lost Bohemia" is photographer Josef Arthur's very personal and heartfelt documentary on the loss to greed and the corporate world, of a very special artists' community known to shockingly few.
Almost everyone has heard of Carnegie Hall, but few knew that along with the famed performance space, the building also housed 168 amazing studio spaces, each one different, and all designed to give artists a place to live, study, create and teach. The list of those who lived and/or worked there reads like a who's who of 20th century arts; Marlon Brando, Isadora Duncan, Enrico Caruso, Leonard Bernstein, The Actors Studio, Martha Graham, Norman Mailer, etc. etc.
At the time the film was made many of the artist residents had been living and working there for 30, 40 even 50 years. And just about all, in spite of advancing years were continuing to create, teach and add to the cultural life of New York City. So when the Carnegie Corporation decides to evict the tenants so it can renovate the building and turn it into office space (they claim it will remain space for artists, but the film gives hard visual evidence of how much of a lie that was) the tenants fight back with all they can muster.
But it's a tough battle, especially since many of the residents - many celebrated in their youth -- are no longer big stars, but are now eccentric (and wonderful) but largely forgotten artists in their 60s, 70s, 80s and even 90s. No one seems to care that tearing apart this world means the loss of literally tons of artistic history, as well as consigning a bunch of aging creative people to spiritual (and in some cases literal) homelessness. Astor himself is a tenant, so the loss is personal, not just theoretic.
The film is rough edged (it was made on what seems a home video camera, and Astor doesn't even try to show his quite brilliant photographic eye). It isn't objective (not that it should be), and the focus can get a bit lost at moments as Astor splits his story between miniature character studies of the residents, the history of the place, and the legal wrangling about the future of the building and tenants. But it's never less than interesting, enjoyable, righteously angry and human. A feisty, but also terribly sad film.
It's also unfortunate that in spite of quite good reviews, the film is almost impossible to see. Never released commercially on DVD, I had to get lucky in tracking down people involved with making the film in order to view it. That's really awful because it's both a worthwhile and moving film, a social statement, and an important slice of unknown history.
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