A NEW DOCUMENTARY BY ROGER PARADISO SHINES A LIGHT ON THE DECLINE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE
BY SUMMER LIN CR FASHION BOOK
Oct 21, 2018
THE LOST VILLAGE CHRONICLES THE LAST DAYS OF URBAN BOHEMIA
A NEW DOCUMENTARY BY ROGER PARADISO SHINES A LIGHT ON THE DECLINE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE BY SUMMER LIN CR FASHION BOOK
Oct 21, 2018
The year was 1961. Then-budding folk singer Bob Dylan began playing at iconic nightclub the Bitter End in Greenwich Village, befriending other musicians including the New Lost City Ramblers, the Clancy Brothers, and Tommy Makem in the process. Beatnik poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso were reciting their work at the now-shuttered coffeehouse, the Gaslight Cafe while Jack Kerouac was penning On the Road over at the Hotel Chelsea. Lou Reed and John Cale had just founded the Velvet Underground before a chance encounter with Andy Warhol at Café Bizarre put their careers on the map. The Village itself provided the band and Warhol a venue for music and artistic expression.
Over the years, the increasing gentrification of the Village, partially due to the expanding real estate of New York University and other developers, began driving up rent prices and causing the creative denizens who built the bohemian utopia to relocate to the outer boroughs and students to go into sex work in order to keep up with the high cost of living. The Lost Village, Roger Paradiso’s documentary released today about the fading uniqueness of Greenwich Village, bemoans the increasing commercialization of the former artistic haven. Here, CR caught up with Paradiso about the history of the Village, his passion projects, and the future of New York’s art scene.
What attracted you to this subject in the first place?
“Growing up, I was in the Village a lot. It was a fun place to go at that time, in terms of the music scene, theater, and movies. They had Bleecker St. Cinema which showed European films and Asian films and it was one of two theaters around. As a writer, the [area was] loaded with Xerox machines that had cheap cost to print. It was a good place to go and the food was inexpensive for a date. It was actually a fun place and what pained me was watching it over the years kind of disintegrate.”
Why was there this sudden expansion of creativity?
“From John F. Kennedy’s run for president to the assassination of Robert [Kennedy], that was the golden age of the Village. When the guys who fought in World War II came back, they got the GI bill, they got their college educations, they went to work, and they started families. The wages were great and there was a lot of purchasing power, so there was more leisure time and their children could go to college more frequently. There was the women’s revolution and the sexual revolution, with the pill being available now on a wider basis. Greenwich Village was the epicenter for the counterculture in the world. The whole modern art world changed with the Village: it was very European-based before and it became American.”
What happened to the artists who flocked there in the first place?
“If you were an artist and you were coming to somewhere in America, it would probably be Greenwich Village, because there are people around it who are like them. Because the rent’s cheap. Because there are clubs, many venues, and jazz, folk rock, and stand-up was flourishing, including Woody Allen, Richard Prior, many other names. Then you had the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, so there was social upheaval. It was a very heightened time and for some, a romantic time. So the Village, to some people in power, needed to be tempered down, and somehow we’ve managed over these decades to lose basically all the artists. There’s nobody really coming to the Village like they used to. You could get an apartment for $25 dollars and it’s now $3,000 dollars.”
What was the cultural impact of the Village?
“Some of them are still going, like Crosby, Stills, and Nash and [Bob] Dylan. Joan Baez-says she’s retiring but she’s still performing. Judy Collins. There was a revolution in what the songs were, how they were done. Movies changed. When Mike Nichols who was working with Elaine May directed The Graduate, he used people from the Village. Dustin Hoffman was a struggling actor and Nichols went against type and put an average-looking guy in a leading role. That was a big deal. That changed everything in movies. And the studios wanted Robert Redford. The score for the film was songs by Simon and Garfunkel. It was a whole other way of making a movie.”
The film focuses a lot on rising rent prices. What made you want to take on this angle?
“NYU has had a contentious relationship with the Village and it goes all the way back. The digital age has changed society and so basically it really escalated between the Village and NYU in the last 10 to 20 years. They’re taking over more parts of the Village and putting in high-rise buildings. Traditionally, the Village was a place that treasured its open space, it treasured the parks, and things like that. But these kinds of things happen in every city. I knew that this was not isolated to just what was happening in Greenwich Village and there are people all over Vancouver, London, and L.A. It’s things moving too quickly and entities like colleges or corporations taking over towns and changing things.”
The Lost Village is out in theaters now.