2010 DOC NYC: Josef Birdman Astor's Lost Bohemia
Source: IONCINEMA.com Festival Coverage
Carnegie Hall has not only been the place where great classical music is performed. It has housed 165 studios above the theaters since 1895, where artists live and work to create dance, music, art, photography, and act. The artists who live there taught students in these very studios, and many 20th century luminaries graced these illustrious halls, including Isadora Duncan, George Balanchine, Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando, and Martha Graham. But in the past few years, Carnegie Hall has decided to tear down the studios to replace them with offices and music studios, leaving many of its elderly residents out in the cold, many who were instrumental in the mid 20th century art scenes of New York City. With studios full of fifty years’ worth of their life’s work, it seems hypocritical that an institution devoted to the arts would throw out many of the people who are living works of art. Lost Bohemia, directed by photographer and longtime resident Josef “Birdman” Astor, pays tribute to these singular individuals losing their livelihood to big business.
Lost Bohemia takes the audience on a trip through time, exploring the vast studios of a select group of individuals who have been living in the studios for decades, their lives intertwined with their immense contributions to the cultural arts of New York City. Many of these people were instrumental in saving Carnegie Hall in 1960 when it was in danger of demolition. A pianist who has been recording since the 1950s is at home at his large piano. A dancer in her eighties, named Star, still stretches diligently with remarkable flexibility in the stairwells. Robert Modica, an acting teacher, has taught at the studio for nearly 50 years. Editta Sherman, at age 98, has been the public face of the fight to save the studios, a former model and muse for many designers and artists. Her home, like the others, is furnished with grand photographs of past stars like Grace Kelly and Leonard Bernstein, with an innumerable amount of books, music, and irreplaceable historical memorabilia.
When watching Lost Bohemia, you might feel like you're in mid-20th-century New York City, when artists lived on the cheap, roomed with one another, ate at local delis, and the work they put their sweat into revitalized the local arts scenes with thought-provoking youthful energy. Be it Kazan and Tennessee Williams collaborating to bring uncomfortable truths to the theater, Jerome Robbins developing the street ballet of West Side Story, or the indie film actors of the 1980s honing their craft with Modica, the Carnegie Hall studios provided an exceptional channel for the greatest artists of the 20th century.
The artists did not win their battle, but their stories and contributions to the arts of New York City will never be forgotten or be unappreciated.