New documentary “Carmine Street Guitars” will have its world premier at the Venice Film Festival. The Ron Mann-directed film chronicles a week in the life of Greenwich Village guitar maker Rick Kelly and his apprentice Cindy Hulej. Kelly’s method is unique: he builds his guitars out of wood salvaged from old New York City buildings constructed in the 1800s or as he calls it, “the bones of old New York.” Artists like Lou Reed and Bob Dylan have owned Kelly’s guitars, which feature parts taken from such iconic Manhattan locales as the Hotel Chelsea and Chumley’s pub.
The doc brings musicians of all stripes — including Patti Smith Band’s Lenny Kaye, Kirk Douglas of The Roots, Jamie Hince of The Kills, Bill Frisell, Nels Cline of Wilco, Marc Ribot, Ester Baling, Dallas and Travis Good of The Sadies and Dylan six-stringer Charlie Sexton — to the shop. Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch (pictured below) also makes an appearance for a quick guitar repair, and was responsible for the film’s conception, in a way. “This movie was really made thanks to Jim Jarmusch,” Mann tells Variety. “Not only for introducing me to Carmine Street Guitars but also for films like ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’ and ‘Patterson’ — this film has that sort of tone.” Mann’s own credits go back more than three decades and include 2014’s “Altman” as well as “Grass” and “Comic Book Confidential.”
Mann captures some visitors to the shop, which is located at 42 Carmine St., in intimate moments, like Cline sampling and buying a Kelly guitar for his friend and bandleader Jeff Tweedy; Frisell talks about growing up listening to Colorado’s unlikely surf band The Astronauts, and then plays an instrumental rendition of Brian Wilson’s “Surfer Girl;” And in the course of the week, Kelly acquires some spare wood from the venerated McSorley’s Ale House, and re-purposes it into a guitar that almost immediately ends up in the capable hands of Sexton.
Carmine Street Guitars is a New York story about standing tall in the face of commerce-driven gentrification. It’s also a meditation on the magic of wood and of music, and the interaction of people. “Marc Ribot says Rick’s shop is about community,” Mann explains. “That’s the way I saw it. I always likened Carmine Street Guitars to a small town post office at a turn of the 20th century . Ultimately, I felt it was something that needed to be captured… before it just all slips away.”
The Match Factory is handling world sales for the film.