CARMINE STREET GUITARS

Posted: July 22, 2020 in Uncategorized
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This extraordinarily pleasant, restful film is essentially the digital equivalent of hanging out in the Manhattan shop of the title, a Greenwich Village institution of sorts where master craftsman Rick Kelly and his young apprentice Cindy Hulej make and sell guitars. At one point early on, Hulej puts down her blowtorch and brushes and steps back to photograph her latest creation for Instagram, assigning the label “#guitarporn” – really, that could just as easily been a title for the whole film. It is 80 minutes of pure woodwork-musicianship-upcycling erotica for a very specialist but passionate market.

If, like me, you love watching video footage of people making stuff, the you’ll probably swoon most over the bits where Hulej and her sensei Kelly saw and chisel or just talk about the objects they create: electric guitars carved from wood recovered from New York’s oldest buildings. They’ve been known to scrounge joists from burnt-down churches, reclaiming timber from the 19th century that Kelly describes as “the bones of old New York City”.

Once the centre of the New York bohemia, Greenwich Village is now home to lux restaurants, and buzzer door clothing stores catering to the nouveau riche. But one shop in the heart of the Village remains resilient to the encroaching gentrification: Carmine Street Guitars. There, custom guitar maker Rick Kelly and his young apprentice Cindy Hulej, build handcrafted guitars out of reclaimed wood from old hotels, bars, churches and other local buildings. Nothing looks or sounds quite like a Rick Kelly guitar, which is the reason they are embraced by the likes of Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Jim Jarmusch, just to name a few. Featuring a cast of prominent musicians and artists, the film captures five days in the life of Carmine Street Guitars, while examining an all-too-quickly vanishing way of life.

Thanks to partly their craftsmanship and partly the crystallised resin in the material (impossible to replicate for guitars made from fresh-cut wood), the instruments have a uniquely beautiful tone. It also helps to hear them played by the various friends of the store who walk through the door for a jam, a natter, maybe even a purchase (this is shopping porn too). Musicians featured include Christine Bougie of Bahamas, the Fiery Furnaces’ Eleanor Friedberger, jazz greats Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot, Jamie Hince from the Kills, Lou Reed’s guitar tech Stewart Hurwood (who put on an installation in Brighton with guitars built by Kelly for Reed), Patti Smith’s guitarist Lenny Kaye, and longtime Bob Dylan collaborator Charlie Sexton. And there’s a visit from film-maker/musician Jim Jarmusch, who is also described in the credits as the film’s “instigator”; his involvement seems inevitable, even though it’s a very self-effacing appearance given over mostly to a discussion of types of wood. If a film had a smell, this one would be of sawdust, varnish and pure love.

  • Carmine Street Guitars is available on digital platforms from 26 June.

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