The Ballad of Greenwich Village

    I’m not a native New Yorker, but I’ve spent more years in Manhattan than anywhere else, so
it’s only natural that I consider the city as home. And for more than half of the time, I’ve resided in
Greenwich Village. Admittedly, I was attracted to the area’s bohemian history, its sense of freedom
and its charm. Up until a few years ago, Greenwich Village was an area where all sorts of people
congregated, where skyscrapers were few and where one could find history on almost any block.
Of course, in the last decade or so, the Village has also undergone a monumental transformation,
most notably in the fact that the artists who once made the area home can no longer afford it. More
and more of the shops, restaurants and other places that once made the area charming and quaint
are being driven out by greedy landlords. The influx of designer name stores on Bleecker Street
alone is enough to drive one to tears.

    Documentarian Karen Kramer has managed to capture some of what once made the area
special in her entertaining and delightful film
Interspersing interviews of the famous (Tim Robbins, Woody Allen, Norman Mailer) with
denizens of the area, Kramer composes a lovely ballad to an area that is steeped in the tradition
of the “different.”

    More than a dozen years in the making,
serves as a survey to anyone who might not know a thing about the area and its rich history.
Truthfully, there was little in the film I didn’t know, mostly because I’d read as much about the
Village as I could. (For those interested in more information, after seeing Kramer’s film, I’d heartily
recommend checking out both Terry Miller’s
Greenwich Village and How It Got That Way – at
one time Kramer was going to collaborate with Miller – and Ross Wetzsteon’s
Republic of Dreams:
Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia, 1910-1960
.) But for the uninitiated, Kramer's
THE BALLAD OF GREENWICH VILLAGE covers the basics, like an
introductory college course: there are the early 20th Century socialists like Max Eastman and
John Reed (prominently featured in the movie
REDS); the literary figures stretching from]
Edgar Allen Poe through Eugene O’Neill through Jack Kerouac through Norman Mailer; the
musical influences from jazz to folk; and, of course, the protests ranging from the antiwar
movements of the 1960s and 2000s to the gay rebellion at Stonewall in 1969.

    Kramer’s film, narrated by Lili Taylor, is a tidy and engrossing time capsule; a terrific portrait
of the freewheeling spirit of the area and a paean to what is fast becoming a lost world.

Rating:                           B
MPAA Rating:              NONE
Running time:                70 mins.

                                                    Viewed at the Quad Cinema
©  2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.