During ‘BILL CUNNINGHAM:NEW YORK’ we were treated to a glimpse of the amazing studio in Carnegie Hall that was his home for some 40 old years and also we got to meet a few of the eclectic band of artists and performers that were his neighbors there. This new movie, also featuring Bill, is about all of the residents of this unique NY building as they are being unceremoniously and callously evicted from the homes that they have lived in for decades, and all in the name of ‘progress’.
When industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie had this luxurious Concert Hall built in the 1880’s he topped the building off with a whole swath of studios and apartments specifically for artists to live and work, and he established a Charter that would guarantee their right to remain there. In the 1960’s the then owner sold the Hall to the City of New York who leased it to the non-profit Carnegie Hall Corporation and it was also added to the National Landmarks Register. In the 1980’s the Corporation commissioned the 60-story Carnegie Hall Tower right next door, which included much needed additional backstage space and offices. But evidently not enough and in 2004 they started to evict all the long-standing residents is that their studios could be used ‘for educational purposes’.
The final residents include the remarkable celebrity photographer Editta Sherman, then aged 96, whose phenomenal body of work was matched by her enormous sense of style. Looking decades younger than her age, her vitality and energy light up the screen and it is impossible not to be totally mesmerized by her. Her neighbors range from acting teachers, to vocal coaches, singers, ballet dancers (one, a sprightly 85 year old ran an illegal studio on a stairwell), and even an organist who had a full size concert organ actually in her apartment.
As the Residents lost their fights to remain, the City of New York, technically their Landlords sat tight, whilst the Corporations heavy phalanx of Lawyers effectively petitioned the Courts to literally re-interpret Andrew Carnegie’s original Charter.
The film could have used a steadier hand editing it, but that aside, this overwhelmingly sad story that witnesses such thoughtless and almost criminal destruction, makes a compelling view. I had a sneak preview as the theatrical release of this movie is not until the Fall, so keep an eye out for it.
P.S. A small thought. In their 2008 Accounts the (non- profit) Corporation’s Chief Executive earned almost $1 million, and the man in charge of all the props etc earned almost $500000!