‘Last Bohemia’ a sad tale of greed at Carnegie Hall

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, June 21, 2012 12:23pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

The title of the documentary is “Lost Bohemia,” but this film describes as lost paradise, as well. The paradise was located in the upper floors of Carnegie Hall.

The fabled Manhattan building, bankrolled by Andrew Carnegie and opened in 1891, has long been known as a gold standard for live performance. But it’s more than a performance space; from its earliest days, Carnegie Hall has also been a living space.

“Lost Bohemia” introduces us to some of the residents of Carnegie Hall, who lived in the apartments above the concert chambers. These places were designed and intended for artists, musicians and dancers, and created as light-filled studios.

Filmmaker Josef Astor is a photographer and former resident himself. All of this is in the past tense; the owners of Carnegie Hall, including the city of New York, determined to kick out the residents over the course of the last few years, so that the spaces could be remade and gentrified, presumably with no room for struggling artists.

Astor’s film chronicles these evictions and brings to life the fantastically eccentric people whose lives are upended because of the change. Some of them — dance instructors, acting teachers, singers, pianists — have lived in the Carnegie for decades.

The film is an elegy, then, for a building’s past. But it’s also infuriating; this is yet another example of a system being willfully changed, in direct violation of the original intentions of the people who created the system, for very simple reasons of greed.

In that sense, “Lost Bohemia” is an effective microcosm for the mindset of the monetary transaction as the all-important reality in society. The people being evicted can find other homes, right? And as for the rich history of the building’s residents, what good is history if you can’t make money from it?

So out they all go — and Astor’s camera captures the process, right down to the apartment interiors being reduced to rubble.

The movie traces some of the history, although you sense there’s a lot more. Past residents include Leonard Bernstein, Marlon Brando, Isadora Duncan and many others mentioned in the film.

Aside from a few comments at a press conference, the people behind the changes are not quoted in the film, as they declined to be interviewed. They probably have reasons. What speaks most eloquently in this horribly sad film is the trashed contents of these rooms that hold so much history and art, all now reduced to debris.

“Lost Bohemia”

A horribly sad documentary that chronicles the gentrification of the apartments in the upper floors of Carnegie Hall, which have housed artists for decades but now must be cleared for progress. Filmmaker Josef Astor, himself a resident, catches this infuriating process, and brings to life the eccentric residents who were the last to live in the storied place.

Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for language.

Showing: Northwest Film Forum.

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