Invaluable information about Carmel’s history as a literary and artistic documentary about a fascinating, largely unknown subject done in a tad too conventional a manner. Clint Eastwood, longtime resident and ex-mayor of Carmel who serves as host and narrator, will considerably elevate docu’s visibility, perhaps even facilitating limited theatrical release before its airing on PBS and other venues.
Most people think of Carmel as a town of outstanding natural beauty and unique charm, but they don’t realize its rich cultural heritage. Co-directors Julian Ludwig and William T. Cartwright have therefore wisely decided not to make a National Geographic-style travelogue, but instead to focus on its importance as an art colony.
Docu begins with a survey of Carmel as a region inhabited by Indians, explorers and missionaries, who founded the famed Carmel Mission in 1771.
Pic follows a historical approach, but becomes quite interesting with its selection of bohemian figures, whose lives and times are then followed in defiance of a narrower chronology.
Through extensive research of published books, private journals, photographs, archival footage and interviews, scripter Cartwright constructs a colorful collective biography of Carmel as a pioneering center for letters and arts.
Among the leading figures are renowned San Francisco poets Robinson Jeffers and George Sterling. Docu acknowledges Sterling’s role in attracting novelists Jack London, Upton Sinclair and Sinclair Lewis to Carmel,which inspired them to produce their best-known work.
Demonstrating, as Eastwood says, that Carmel is much more than just quaint, docu doesn’t neglect the private lives of its celebrated artists, detailing duels and fisticuffs between rival lovers, philandering husbands, suicidal authors and other accidents and scandals that could fill the tabloids, though they are handled by Eastwood in an unsensational, matter-of-fact style.
One of the film’s elegiac themes is the notion of Carmel always being at the crossroads of tradition and modernity, increasingly becoming victim to the push toward urban development. Ending sometime in the l950s, docu is missing an overview of the last three decades, during which Carmel’s geographic and social landscapes have rapidly changed.
Chief problem is the impersonation of figures’ voices by actors, which creates an unavoidable distance between the viewers and the genuinely emotional stories. A guest appearance by former movie star and now Carmel resident Doris Day enlivens matters.
Still, made for the non-profit society Carmel Heritage, “Don’t Pave Main Street” may fulfill a vital historical function by encouraging other communities to record their own cultural pasts for future generations.