TFF2016: New York Then

          Tribeca has become known for its documentaries, and the shorts are no exception.  In fact, one, Joe’s Violin, is so moving that it seems Oscar-worthy, so don’t be surprised if it turns up on next year’s nominee list.

            This program opens with the fun, zesty Taylor and Ultra on the 60s, the Factory and Being a Warhol Superstar.  It’s an invaluable slice of queer history featuring Taylor Mead, a multitalented artist who starred in Warhol’s short Taylor Mead’s Ass among other pop art projects; and Ultra Violet, an alluring and insightful Factory member who recalls trying (unsuccessfully) to seduce Andy on a fire escape.  As if underscoring the importance of talking to our elders and learning about the past, both subjects have died since their interviews were filmed. 

            Next up is Dead Ringer, a fun little polemic about the dying institution of phone booths in Manhattan.  Mulberry puts a face on gentrification with cogent interviews and gorgeous black and white photography of Little and “Big” Italy.  The Carousel is well shot, if not particularly outstanding, although Twilight Zone fans will appreciate the exploration of Rod Serling and interview with his daughter.  I, for one, want to make a road trip to Binghamton post haste.  Starring Austin Pendleton highlights the guy my dad would call “a wicked character actor” (we’re from Massachusetts) and demonstrates how awesome “non-stars” truly are.  (One of my favorite character actors, the openly gay Denis O’Hare, turns up briefly.)

            New York Then goes out with a bang.  Joe’s Violin features the unlikely blond between an elderly Holocaust survivor and a young student from the Bronx when the latter is chosen to receive his donated violin.  The film is so touching—and the 12 year old subject so wise beyond her years—that only the coldest of people will avoid crying.  It’s a beautiful, important piece of work that hits on multiple levels.

LQQK Rating: Queerness: 5 for Taylor and Ultra, with bonus points for Denis O'Hare in Starring Austin Pendleton, Quality: 4 (average of the shorts)

New York Then screens Saturday, April 23 at 3:30pm at the Regal Battery Park City.  Visit tribecafilm.com/festival for more info.

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