Marlon Brando spent time there. So did Marilyn Monroe and Mark Twain and Martha Graham and Lucille Ball. For more than 100 years, the Carnegie Hall Studios — 165 working and living spaces perched atop the famed New York City concert hall — were a hidden and affordable oasis for artists, musicians, actors, writers and photographers. The affordable part is what ultimately did them in.
Lost Bohemia, a short, sweet documentary by Josef “Birdman” Astor, introduces us to the people who lived there and their attempts to fight eviction. The building’s owners wanted to convert the studios into offices. Astor, who lived there himself for 20 years, knew his subjects personally. One of them is Editta Sherman, a 98-year-old photographer known as the Duchess of Carnegie, who had lived in her studio since 1949. Another is the live-wire fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, who was the subject of another documentary last year.
On one level, Lost Bohemia is essentially a sad tale of corporate greed and Manhattan’s eternal balancing act between culture and commerce. But through his use of vintage photos, music and film clips, and the anecdotes his subjects share with the viewer, Lost Bohemia also becomes a celebration of the creative spirit and the courageous belief all creative people share that true art will always triumph in the end. The residents may have lost their fight, but their battle resulted in this warm and affectionate movie that ensures they won’t be forgotten.
Director: Josef Astor.
Producers: Jonathan Ferrantelli, Jody Shields.
Running time: 77 minutes. No objectionable material. In Miami-Dade only: O Cinema.