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Review: Carmine Street Guitars

May 1, 2019

Carmine Street Guitars is a rare dose of feel-good in the modern theater. It brings you to a small oasis of individual care and attention in a world of franchises and chain stores.

This documentary film is named after the shop on which it focuses, Carmine Street Guitars, founded and run since the 1970s by a man named Rick Kelly. The store is located on 42 Carmine Street in New York City. Inside this little store, tucked between New York’s skyscrapers like an antique dictionary hiding in the corners of a modern bookstore, Kelly makes custom guitars while his mother answers the telephone and his apprentice manages the Instagram page and burns custom designs into the guitars.

In today’s world that seems to emphasis quantity over quality, even just the phrase “custom made” would not do justice to the guitars that Kelly makes. With the same loving care Kelly designs his guitars with, the documentary shows how he searches for unique wood from all over New York to carve the instruments from.

Between depicting the process of turning 100+ year old wood into a musical instrument, the documentary also shows renowned musicians and media giants stepping into the shop. Lenny Kaye comes in and reminisces with Kelly about seeing Jimi Hendrix play when they were teenagers. Jim Jarmusch pops in asking for guitar repairs. Eleanor Friedberger stops by to try out one of Kelly’s newly complete guitars. The dialogue in the documentary is a little awkward and scripted in places, but you quickly forget about that when one of these artists picks up a guitar in Kelly’s shop and plays a tune within this enchanting art shop.

There are a few scenes that allude to the economic vultures circling the shop in the form of high rent prices and fancy restaurants. However, this film offers a refreshing change from conventional documentaries that usually inject a call-to-action in their dialogue. Rather than presenting Carmine Street Guitars as the final gasps of what New York used to be, it portrays it as a symbol of hope, a shrine to how love for things old and unique will always endure.

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