Rudie Reviews Josef Birdman Astor’s Lost Bohemia [DOC NYC Film Festival]

Home is where the heart is, no matter where you find it, the concept of ‘home’ is something everyone can relate to. So what happens when you’re home is threatened by an outside force and there is nothing you can do about it. No, this movie isn’t about a haunted house or ghost scaring homeowners to leave, but the subject matter is just as frightening. Lost Bohemia explores the residents living above Carnegie Hall in a community of artist and performers and the Carnegie Hall Corporation who threatens to evict them.

The film follows a series of residents who have lived in the legendary building for years, some almost over 50 years. Jumping from painters, to actors, to dancers, Lost Bohemia examines a cavalcade of talent, most living with the luxury of rent control and others who have been ‘squatting’ for years. As sincere the sentiment of the filmmakers, the film offers a problematic structure. The film starts off with tiny vignettes of these artist but never comes off as clear of what the filmmaker wants to do with it. Lucky for the filmmaker, but sadly for the residents, real life drama has offered that conflict.

At times the film feels unfocused and at other times it feel muddled. The subject matter is interesting and tragic but the filmmakers never really show the weight of this eviction outside of a historical one. It is true, an era is over. Giving a place for artist to live, work and interact is an invaluable resource, but most of the artist living in above Carnegie Hall have long past their potential, most of the time it feels like a retirement home of forgotten dreams rather that a place of vibrant, energetic art. What is lost is an era and not a continuing lifestyle. Albeit, the subject matter does give some insight to the lives of others but the filmmaking is lacking in most areas.

Despite its shortcomings, Lost Bohemia does offer a look at a different New York City and does comment on this new New York City more concerned about money and commerce than the arts. The direction of a dying city is somewhat reflected in the studios of artist on top of Carnegie Hall. Moreover, the corporation side of Carnegie Hall made a business decision to evict these people and not a cultural one. The film emphasises the importance of art and culture in the city as it does make New York City a unique case for cities around the world.

This is a sad story of loss, art and the life blood that keeps us going but overall Lost Bohemia comes up short of being art itself. The film feels flat and dull considering the subject matter. Offering voice over of a mysterious resident over the phone adds nothing to the narrative and at times feels schlocky and chinsey. Lost Bohemia is lost in storytelling and gravitas.

Grade: C-