I cannot rave enough about Ron Mann's new film, Carmine Street Guitars. I first fell in love with the film when I caught it at the Vancouver Film Festival, where I had the pleasure of hanging out with Ron for an involved interview, but when I had the chance of giving it a second look at the New York Film Festival one week later, my suspicions were confirmed: Carmine Street Guitars is one of my all time favorite documentaries - full stop.
In my first article, I call Carmine Street Guitars a stoic film about a custom guitar shop that repurposes some of the oldest wood in New York City into impeccably crafted instruments, "the most unassuming, sneakily beautiful, goddamn treat of a film I have ever seen", and then I do go on. There's much I could add to that gush-fest, but I'll try to restrain myself to two comparisons.
On one hand, Ron Mann's workaday doc feels like what a Mike Judge film might look like if he really allowed his heart to sing unironically. On the other, to use Mann's dedication, the film is a spiritual ode to Jonathan Demme, whose approach to documentaries was always left of the dial. Like Storefront Hitchcock or Swimming to Cambodia or Stop Making Sense or The Perfect Kiss, Carmine Street Guitars has a way of approaching its subject that's similarly sideways yet organic. It meets both its subject and the many associative themes on its terms, finds its pace, and reveals its soft spoken beauty.
Though the film had already played at three festivals at the time of its local premiere at the New York Film Festival, the hype in the Walter Reade Theater was palpable. Venice, TIFF, and VIFF be damned, this was the screening to attend. With an audience full of Carmine faithfuls, including Lenny Kaye, Jim Jarmusch, not to mention a healthy turnout of die hard customers, NYFF offered Carmine Street Guitars its hometown screening and it was a total joy.
While in New York, not only did I have the opportunity to visit Carmine Street Guitars, but I also had the privilege of rapping with some of the film's coolest customers. Have a listen:
0:00 -- Jim Jarmusch
10:00 -- A visit to Carmine Street Guitars with Ricky Kelly and Cindy Hulej
36:00 -- Eleanor Friedberger