Carmine Street Guitars




A modest film that unexpectedly has an attraction well beyond its musical subject matter.

Carmine Street Guitars

In theory this is a film of decidedly specialised interest since it is a study of a well-established enterprise in New York City run by Rick Kelly, a man who has devoted his life to making, repairing and selling guitars. That description could in itself attract lovers of the instrument, but I should stress at once that contrary to my expectations Carmine Street Guitars turns out to be a work of extraordinarily wide appeal. This stems from the fact that the director Ron Mann has created a film which not only has a truly engaging central figure in Rick Kelly but is also one which has been made with a rare sense of affection. Other films have undoubtedly appeared that were undertaken as true labours of love, but few if any have conveyed that fact so clearly to the viewer.


The establishment known as Carmine Street Guitars is located in New York's Greenwich Village and both its reputation and its atmosphere understandably draw in as customers a huge number of noted guitar players. In making this film Ron Mann and the writer Len Blum have adopted a formula of a familiar kind, but it is one that neatly gives it a shape while also being simple and straightforward in a way that is true to the tone of the piece. It begins on a Monday and then on a day to day basis extending up to the Friday it shows what life is like in Carmine Street Guitars. Each day notable musicians look in, talk and try out a new or repaired instrument so that their sounds contribute to what the film has to offer. In addition to that music there is an attractive background score provided by Dallas and Travis Good who also make a personal appearance.


The premises comprise both shop and workshop so we see Rick Kelly and his assistant Cindy Hulej going about their work. Both explain their dedication to the job and Rick talks of his enthusiastic local search for premium and reclaimed wood ideal for the instruments that he makes. It is the world inside Carmine Street Guitars that Mann focuses on and consequently, although Rick's mother appears, the film ignores biographical details that could have fleshed out the lives of both Rick and Cindy. This does not feel like a loss, however, because the atmosphere of the workplace like that of Greenwich Village itself is so well caught.


Jim Jarmusch, another of those who appears, is credited as the film's instigator and, if that means that he actively encouraged Ron Mann to be the director, his judgment was spot on. Mann's engagement with his subject is expressed in part in his relaxed, unhurried pacing and this makes him the ideal choice, but that is only part of the reason why the film proves to have such a broad appeal. Two other factors play a major part in this. One is the impact made by Rick Kelly himself: he is a wholly unassertive expert in his own field and, even more importantly, he is a dedicated man who patently loves the work he does. The other grows from our sense that the world of an individual, independent business like this seems to belong to a past age. Uneasy with technology, Rick Kelly sees himself as someone who doesn't fully fit the 21st century and he is true to himself in not wanting to change in this respect. However, his stance only adds to the feeling that Carmine Street Guitars is a celebration of a way of life which may soon be lost and which needs to be treasured while it lasts. For anyone strongly drawn to this sphere of music history this is the definitive film on the subject, but in addition I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to everyone.




Featuring  Rick Kelly, Cindy Hulaj, Eszter Balint, Jim Jarmusch, Eleanor Friedberger, Christine Bougie, Nels Cline, Kirk Douglas, Bill Frisell, Jamie Hince, Marc Ribot, Charlie Sexton, Lenny Kaye, Dave Hill, Dallas Good, Travis Good, Stewart Hurwood.


Dir Ron Mann, Pro Ron Mann, Screenplay Len Blum, Ph Becky Parsons and John M. Tran, Ed Robert Kennedy, Music Dallas Good and Travis Good.


Sphinx Productions film/The Movie Network-Modern Films.
80 mins. Canada. 2018. Rel: 26 June 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema
and BFI Player. Cert. 12.