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Friday, June 22, 2012 - Page updated at 10:00 p.m.
'Lost Bohemia': Memories of studios above Carnegie Hall play on
By A. O. Scott
The New York Times
"Lost Bohemia," a new documentary by Josef Astor, is a sad and spirited elegy for the Carnegie Hall Studios, which for more than a century provided working, living and teaching space for all kinds of artists on the floors above the famous concert hall. Astor, a photographer who moved into the building in 1985, pays tribute to his neighbors and friends who made up the last generation of studio residents. He also acknowledges the famous ghosts who haunt the place, ranging from Isadora Duncan and Enrico Caruso to Marilyn Monroe and Martha Graham.
It is staggering to contemplate how much of New York's cultural history is contained in the square feet Astor — known to his neighbors as Birdman — surveys. And it is infuriating, though not surprising, to witness how efficiently it is wiped away. Much of the film chronicles the eviction of the last tenants, displaced by a renovation plan intended to replace their homes and workplaces with new studios and offices.
The last residents moved out last year, and while "Lost Bohemia" mourns their dispossession, it also allows us to spend time in their eccentric, artistic company and to appreciate their contribution to the life of the city. Among them are Bill Cunningham, the New York Times photographer who is the subject of a marvelous recent documentary, and Don Shirley, a pianist who recalls playing with Duke Ellington "downstairs" — that is, in Carnegie Hall itself.
An anonymous, unseen poet who lives above Astor and leaves him eloquent phone messages observes that studios and the hall below, though commissioned by a plutocrat, "were built not on power, but on love." The power of this documentary resides in that proud and fragile sentiment.
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