By Antonia Altomonte
Toronto’s very own Ron Mann, a Documentary Film Director who usually focuses on Canadian and American pop culture, found great interest in a music shop called Carmine Street Guitars. The shop is located inside of Greenwich Village in New York City.
Carmine Street Guitars is a documentary that features a full week of what goes on in the Carmine Street Guitars shop, and it isn’t your average music store. The shop has been opened since 1990 and is owned by Rick Kelly, a legend guitar maker who’s been making guitars since1968. Rick Kelly specializes in building custom guitars out of wood salvaged from historic New York buildings.
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It’s a non-staged documentary that shows natural conversations going on between Rick and his legendary customers, like Patti Smith Group co-founder Lenny Kaye, Eleanor Friedberger, Charlie Sexton, and director and part time guitarist Jim Jarmusch. Throughout the film they show up to perform with Rick’s famous guitars, talk music, reminisce and tell stories about everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Bob Dylan, while just hanging out in the shop.
Rick Kelly is not alone in his shop. He also has his mother, Dorothy, helping with book keeping and answering phone calls, as well as Cindy Hulej, his 25-year-old apprentice who studied art and has been working in the shop for five years. Male customers sometimes under estimate her because she’s in a male dominant environment. But Cindy not only knows about guitars, she also builds them and does amazing wood work, as well as a beautiful job at embellishing her own creations. Cindy used hand painting and wood burning images designing guitars, with everything and everyone one from Traveling WiIlburys to Betty Page.
My personal favourite part of Carmine Street Guitars is Ron Mann is bringing history back to life with his creations, and I enjoyed seeing the passion Rick Kelly has for his craft. He is truly skilled at what he does. I also love the fact he recycles historic wood from iconic buildings around New York City, and hand picks them himself, even if it means the occasional dumpster dive. Rick calls the wood “The bones of old New York City” and they basically are some beams he’s retrieved from buildings that are over 400 years old.
It was a good documentary but, I felt more of Rick Kelly’s story and history should have been captured in the film. I’m a music fan myself, so I would recommend this documentary for music snobs, guitar lovers, and anyone who appreciates history and craftsmanship.
*Editor’s note: Carmine Street Guitars was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ‘18