It isn’t the camera work or direction that make Josef Astor’s documentary Lost Bohemia a wonderful film, it’s the subject matter. For more than 100 years, New York City’s Carnegie Hall Towers housed studio apartments where writers, painters, musicians, actors and dancers created art that changed the American cultural landscape. Astor lived in one of the upstairs studios for more than 20 years. In 2001, he started documenting his neighbors, some of whom had been tenants since the 1940s. That task took on greater urgency in 2007, when the artists began receiving eviction notices from the Carnegie Hall Corporation. (The official reason for the mass eviction was to remodel the spaces in order to better support Carnegie Hall’s educational programs for young artists, but New York’s arts community, young and old, railed against the move.)
The film features glimpses into the lives of singer Jeanne Beauvais, portrait photographer Editta Sherman, concert pianist Dr. Donald Shirley and dancer Star Szarek. A squatter in the building since the 1970s, the elderly Szarek is shown in leotards and tights at the ballet barre, still practicing her moves. She perfectly represents the conflict of the situation. Well past her prime, she nonetheless still has something to contribute, however small in comparison to the talents of younger, more active artists. But does our respect for what she’s done in the past justify preventing the Carnegie Hall Corporation from using its space in whatever way it thinks best? No matter which side of the issue you come down on, it’s still sad to witness the eradication of an artistic community with a history that includes the likes of Isadora Duncan, Enrico Caruso, Marilyn Monroe, Norman Mailer and George Balanchine. 7 p.m. Thursday, 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet.
Thu., Aug. 9, 7 p.m.; Sat., Aug. 11, 6 & 7:30 p.m., 2012