In the heart of Greenwich Village, New York City sits a shop unlike any other. Run by Rick Kelly, Carmine Street Guitars has been building custom made guitars for years. In this quaint documentary, Ron Mann takes the audiences into the heart of Kelly’s operation – crafting beautiful and rich guitars for residents and famous musicians alike. Utilising wood from New York’s buildings, Kelly crafts exceptional guitars with the help of his elderly mother and young apprentice Cindy Hulej.
Told in a neat 80 minute runtime, Mann’s documentary is without talking heads, narration, or flashbacks. Instead, he nestles the camera right in the middle of the action and allows Kelly and Hulej to gradually reveal secrets of the wood and the guitars on display. The character of the instruments made and, therefore Kelly himself , are told through impeccable riffs and customer interactions, giving you a bigger appreciation for how a guitar is
Tender and intriguing, Mann’s film is not just a movie about a man who makes guitars. Woven into the wood is the city’s histories, artistically carved into the face are the ghosts of musicians we have lost, and always looming is the presence of gentrification. Kelly’s family has owned the shop since 1907 and has seen the street around it change dramatically. Putting the shops resilience at the forefront, Mann explores the rapidly evolving city. From the roots such as acquiring wood from the oldest bar McSworley’s to the circling estate agents who wish to sell the place for millions, this film is not just about the music Kelly helps create but it’s about the melody that whistles down the old streets of New York.
Walking through the doors of Carmine Street Guitars are the likes of film director Jim Jarmusch, indie band The Sadies, and Kirk Douglas from The Roots. Naturally, it is fun to see these famous faces appear, adding to the legendary status of Rick Kelly and his shop. However, at times it can feel hokey. Clearly staged interactions between the clients and the owners are a bit of a detriment to the naturalistic vibe of the movie.
Dedicated to extraordinary filmmaker Jonathan Demme, Ron Mann’s Carmine Street Guitars is an appealing and loving documentary. It not only procures an appreciation for music and handcrafted art, but also an admiration for the resilience of small shops surrounded by grand skyscrapers and builds.