TIFF 2018: Carmine Street Guitars

Carmine Street Guitars owner and guitar-maker Rick Kelly and his apprentice Cindy Hulej in Carmine Street Guitars, directed by Ron Mann. Courtesy of Sphinx Productions.

Carmine Street Guitars follows custom guitar-maker Rick Kelly and apprentice Cindy Hulej for a week in this Greenwich Village-set documentary.

Kelly and Hulej have been building custom-made guitars by hand out of wood taken from New York buildings.  Not just any New York buildings mind you but historic ones.  To give you an idea of what Kelly means to the music industry, his clientele includes musicians like Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, and more.  Kelly is one of the final internet holdouts.  He does not use the internet in his home.  Hulej, the art student turned guitar apprentice, lets her feelings be known on the matter.

Even though Ron Mann directs the film, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch is the one who gets the ball rolling with the film.  He’s not only a filmmaker but he also plays guitar.  Other guitarists featured include members of Bahamas, Wilco, The Roots, The Sadies, The Kills, SQÜRL, Patti Smith Band, and the Bob Dylan Band.  The Sadies also contribute the score to the film.

It’s a mix of cinema verite and sit-down interviews.  Or stand-up interviews.  It is not the biographical type of documentary.  Mann essentially follows Kelly as he works on guitars and interacts with his customer base.  In any event, after being interviewed, it seems as if everyone plays guitar.  They all discuss their reasons for shopping at Rick Kelly’s shop.

The filmmakers manage to have some fun in the end credits.  Instead of animals, the message reads: “No hippies were harmed in the making of this movie.”  Viewers be warned–there’s a scene after the credits.  Is it necessary?  Probably not.  Because Marvel does it, everybody now has to do it.  Thankfully, the credits are short compared to most!

This is going to be one of those rare films that likely will play better in New York City.  It’s not going to be for everyone including those of us who do play the guitar.  Die-hard music lovers will appreciate the film for what it is.  I mean, I play guitar and have never heard heard of the guy let alone the shop.  I couldn’t find myself connecting to it in the same way that I’ve connected with other documentaries.  For what it’s worth, this has nothing to do with the content.

This is an okay documentary but Carmine Street Guitars isn’t a film that I would consider to be earth-shattering material.

FEATURING:  Eszter Balint, Christin Bougie, Nels Cline, Kirk Douglas, Eleanor Friedberger, Bill Frisell, Dallas Good, Travis Good, Dave Hill, Jaime Hince, Stewart Hurwood, Jim Jarmusch, Lenny Kaye, Marc Ribot, Charlie Sexton

Carmine Street Guitars held its North American premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in the Docs program. The film premiered out of competition at the 2018 Venice Film Festival.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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