Everyone knows Carnegie Hall is one of the world's great concert spaces. But less known is that Andrew Carnegie envisioned an expansive community for artists high above the auditorium, setting aside 165 sunlit studios for painters, poets, performers and musicians. For more than 100 years that vision was a glorious reality, housing the likes of Isadora Duncan and Marlon Brando in a low-rent, sky-high hive of artistic industry and camaraderie. As chronicled here by photographer and 20-year resident Josef "Birdman" Astor, things changed in 2001, when the Carnegie Hall Corporation began evicting tenants in favor of cubicles and drywall, riding roughshod over scores of elderly, legendary denizens, and throwing more dirt onto the grave of old New York.
What Lost Bohemia lacks in aesthetic presentation---first-time filmmaker Astor seems to have gathered footage without much forethought---is made up for by an intimacy familiar from home movies, revealing eccentric neighbors at their most frank and endearing. He invites us into this inner sanctum (watch wiry Bill Cunningham and flamboyant Editta Sherman playing dress-up, exactly as they have for the past half century) before chronicling its systematic, tragic dismantling. Considering the high cost of living in NYC, it can be easy to dismiss the hardships of rent-controlled bohemians, but as seen from the inside, it's clear that something much bigger was at stake: the very heart of a city that prides itself on art, but habitually privileges the bottom line.