Ron Mann’s absorbing documentary portrays a week in the life of old-school guitar maker Rick Kelly and his Greenwich Village workshop with its devoted clientele of rock royalty.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2019
A film for anyone who appreciates the art of guitar playing or the beauty of making things, or both, Carmine Street Guitars centres on Rick Kelly, who has been building and selling guitars from a Greenwich Village workshop for more than 40 years. Though he initially seems a man of few words, the documentary gradually reveals an artisan-philosopher, whose relationship with wood – which he sources from demolition sites around New York – is practical as well as a little mystical. He’s a font of local knowledge, and in between discussions of pin routers and crystallised resins we hear about McGurk’s Suicide Hall, learn where Jackson Pollock lived, and discover the origins of the expression ‘86’ed’.
Over an apparently typical week, we watch the guitar maker at work while he is visited by a succession of reverential customers – including Bill Frisell, Eleanor Friedberger, Marc Ribot, Nels Cline and Jim Jarmusch – each of whom gives an impromptu performance on one of his instruments. We get to know Kelly’s 93-year-old mother Dorothy and Gen X apprentice Cindy Hulej, and director Ron Mann’s camera satisfies our nosiness as he pokes its lens into every gloriously cluttered corner of Kelly’s world. — Nick Bollinger
“Graciously and generously, the documentary finds time to give us entire performances of improvisations and songs… Our world is indeed digitalizing, brutalizing, evacuating its own soul, but in certain rare islands of utopian harmony they still make them like they used to, and it’s wonderful to watch. And listen to.” — Shelley Kraicer, Cinema Scope