Lost Bohemia | Film review
A documentary looks at the last days of Carnegie Hall’s upstairs artist colony.
“If Mozart had a suite in this place, he’d be thrown out with the rest of us,” says filmmaker Andrew Bergman, a tenant since 1982 of the artists’ apartments on the upper floors of Carnegie Hall. Andrew Carnegie envisioned the building as a venue where art would be created as well as performed; over the years, its occupants have included Marlon Brando, Isadora Duncan, Leonard Bernstein, Bill Cunningham and many others. Directed by photographer (and resident-at-the-time-of-filming) Josef Birdman Astor, Lost Bohemia is a document of this vanishing space and the artists’ colony that grew up in it. These high-culture bohemians were served with eviction notices when the building’s owners decided to renovate. The last tenant moved out in 2010.
Documenting the studios’ final years, Lost Bohemia is at once reminiscence and polemic, an impassioned argument for the preservation of cultural history. It’s a matter whose importance extends beyond New York; the city declined to take sides in the dispute, and you have to wonder whether Chicago would do the same. Astor isn’t much of a filmmaker—his technique at times consists of showing up at neighbors’ apartments with a consumer-grade camera—but it’s hard not to be moved by the borderline surreal footage of an octogenarian dancer sneaking into the stairwell to practice or the closing montage, showing photos of the countless performers and creators who have given life to the space.