Roger Paradiso’s documentary concerns the loss of Greenwich Village’s uniqueness at the hands of greedy real estate developers and New York University.
To begin this review on a personal note: I’ve lived in New York City for decades and have watched in dismay as beloved neighborhoods have lost their unique characters to the corrosive effects of commercialization and gentrification. This is particularly true of Greenwich Village, a former bastion of bohemianism that has fallen victim to these trends to a tremendous degree. A chief villain in this particular case is New York University, which has trampled over the once diverse area and turned much of it into a private campus. All of this is to say that I thoroughly agree with nearly every point expressed in Roger Paradiso’s documentary about the subject. And yet The Lost Village still didn’t work for me.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with agitprop cinema, of which this is a prime example. But passion and righteousness are not enough to make a satisfying film. Cohesion and rational arguments are necessary as well.
The film urgently argues that Greenwich Village has become decimated in the wake of market forces. The opening minutes feature images of a slew of “For Lease” signs on shuttered storefronts in the area as landlords have drastically raised rents. The result is that “mom and pop” stores and restaurants have closed in droves, replaced by chain stores, banks and high-end retailers.
NYU is a principal target of The Lost Village, lambasted for its sky-high tuition and dorm fees that force female students to resort to, in some cases, becoming sex workers or “sugar babies” to older, wealthy men. (Indeed, the film returns to the theme so often it seems a bit creepy.) We hear endless complaints about how the school is only available to young people with “trust funds,” but the argument seems specious. Nobody is being forced to attend NYU, and it’s not like Harvard, Yale or Columbia, among many others, are any less expensive.
References to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire abound throughout the doc, which is overkill. We hear about the evils of corporate profits and income inequality and about how the presidential election was stolen from Hillary Clinton. A clip from a 2012 interview with Judith Malina shows the legendary co-founder of The Living Theater complaining, “Instead of dealing with art, I’m forced to deal with money,” as if artists have never been faced to deal with money issues before. “I’m gonna have to go to New Jersey,” she adds, mournfully.
Yes, it’s a shame that St. Vincent’s Hospital, the only major medical center in the neighborhood, was torn down and replaced by luxury condos. But an interview with a man who talks about how his wife was treated there late one night doesn’t add much to the debate.
And so it goes throughout The Lost Village, which features endless talking heads bemoaning what’s happened to their beloved neighborhood. But the arguments are so strident and scattershot that, however sympathetic you might be to them, you begin to tune out. Compounding the problem is the amateurish cinematography and editing that makes the film painful to watch.
The Lost Village squanders its noble intentions with poor execution, its rambling, diffuse arguments coming across like the hectoring of a cranky old man accosting you on the street.
Distributor: First Run Features
Director-producer: Roger Paradiso
Editors: Davon Falconer, Roger Paradiso
Composers: Robert Temple Jr., David Amram, Laura Warfield