A mainstay in Greenwich Village for over 30 plus years, Shopshin's
began life as a local grocery store located on the corner of Bedford and
Morton Streets. The proprietors were Kenny Shopsin and his wife Eve.
Because they were raising a family of five, the couple only operated their
general store five days a week, closing on the weekends. With the rise of
property values in the 1980s and the inevitable rent hike, the Shopsin's
were faced with a dilemma: do they open seven days a week or do they
start serving food. By that point, the store had a pretty good business
for takeout sandwiches. So, they opted for the latter. Over the next two
decades, Shopsin's garnered a reputation for its large and eclectic menu
as well as for Kenny's colorful approach to business.
Since he did all of the cooking for the 34-seat facility, Kenny
oversaw the place like a dictator. There were certain rules and regulations
one had to follow -- like no parties larger than four, no duplicating orders,
no takeout, etc. Some of these had to do with the size of the staff and
the establishment. Others were an outgrowth of Kenny's personality.
He was quite content to keep his customer base down, often refusing to
allow tourists or newcomers into the store. He eschewed press coverage,
and was known to ban people from his restaurant if they violated his rules.
Things changed in 2002, though. A new landlord had bought
the building and proposed a one-year lease or a three-year lease if
one of Kenny's daughters vacated a rent stabilized apartment in the
building. Shopsin felt both offers were insulting, so after over 30 years
in the same location, he decided to move. As such, he allowed one
regular -- the writer Calvin Trillin -- to pen a piece about the place for
The New Yorker (April 15, 2002). Shopsin also asked another frequent
customer, photographer Matt Mahurin, to document the restaurant in
its original location. Instead of just taking still photos, though, Mahurin
obtained a video camera and shot I LIKE KILLING FLIES.
The resulting film is a portrait of a true original, an eccentric
man who lived his dream. Shopsin speaks candidly about his financial
losses in the stock market which precluded him from purchasing the
building in which the restaurant was located. In the opening scenes,
as he arrives for a day's work, he offers a hilarious and scatalogical
tour of his jerrybuilt kitchen which barely can contain a man of his
girth. The refrigerators are rigged in special ways, the stoves have
been created over the years to facilitate his cooking. Amazingly,
the menu of over 900 items (if you can think of it, it is probably on
listed), many of which Shopsin created.
The title of the film comes from a riff that Shopsin delivers
in which he begins by extolling his pleasure in swatting flies and
expands to include a commentary on US foreign policy. The
movie also documents the final days at its original location and
a move to a larger space nearby, one that is fraught with problems
and one which raises a number of fears. (It should be noted that
Shopsin has recently announced a move to Brooklyn where the rents
are cheaper; the remainder of the lease on the current location is
up for sale.)
Before gentrification and the current trend of making the
entire city of New York seem like a theme park, complete with chain
stores and restaurants, Greenwich Village was the home of the
bohemian and the eccentric. Perhaps no one represents that more
than Kenny Shopsin and the dissolution of his "mom and pop" way
of life is a sad day for all. At least Matt Mahurin has preserved his
story on film and in years hence, someone may get a sense of what
life in the Village was in the latter part of the 20th Century.
Rating: B -
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running time: 79 mins.
Viewed at Magno Review One
|I Like Killing Flies
|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.