Documentary Review: ‘Carmine Street Guitars’

Review by James Lindorf

Director Ron Mann (Comic Book Confidential) shares the story of custom guitar maker Rick Kelly and his company, Carmine Street Guitars. There, Rick Kelly and his young apprentice, Cindy Hulej, build guitars out of reclaimed wood from old hotels, churches, bars and other sites around Gotham City. Nothing looks or sounds quite like a Rick Kelly guitar, which is why they are embraced by the likes of Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Jim Jarmusch, and more. Carmine Street Guitars will be available on April 24th.

Mann approached the film as a week in the life of Kelly and his store. He shows Kelly biking to work, hunting down supplies and even his mom Dorothy Kelly helping keep the shop clean. It really lets you delve deep into the world of the craftsman and appreciate his artistry. However, it makes other elements feel a bit staged. Do that many known musicians or celebrities come in on a weekly basis? Did Cindy’s five-year anniversary naturally occur during this week? Or, did it exist to show how important the apprentice and master relationship is to the pair.

Just like Kelly won’t rush the creation of one of his guitars, Mann doesn’t rush the film. It is all presented at a very languid pace. You never quite know where it is going next and Mann isn’t in a hurry to get you to the next performance or step in construction. I was left wanting more footage of him working. It was so precise and so effortless that watching the wood disappear while he was shaping his next project was mesmerizing.

Carmine Street Guitars embraces old ideals and revels in the majesty of wood and music in the face of the never-ending progression of gentrification and commerce. The film celebrates Kelly as a man more than as a craftsman. We learn about his passions, his attachment to New York and his love of the environment. Carmine Street Guitars is warm and entertaining. Unfortunately, it left me wanting more craftsmanship and less musing.

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