“THE LOST VILLAGE”— An Expose of Greenwich Village

“The Lost Village” An Expose of Greenwich Village Amos Lassen Greenwich Village, the epicenter of the counterculture in the 1960s and ’70s, is being turned into an area of chain stores, banks and multi-million dollar condos. Filmmaker Roger Paradiso takes us on a journey through today’s Village as he tries to understand how this gentrification happened. He speaks to journalists, activists, shop-owners, professors and more and finds out how the landlords, politicians and NYU turned the Village into a place that is losing its heart and soul and uniqueness. In New York City beloved neighborhoods have lost their unique characters to the corrosive effects of commercialization and gentrification. This is particularly true of Greenwich Village, the former home of bohemianism that has become victim to these trends. One of the chief villains here is New York University, which has turned diversity into a private campus. We feel director Paradiso’s passion and righteousness but they are just not enough to make a satisfying film. Cohesion and rational arguments are missing here. This does not mean you ca not enjoy the film since you certainly can—- it just could have been so much better than it is.
The film argues that Greenwich Village has become decimated due to market forces. The film begins with images of “For Lease” signs on shuttered storefronts in the area as landlords have drastically raised rents. “Mom and pop” stores and restaurants have closed and have been, replaced by chain stores, banks and high-end retailers. NYU is a principal target here and it is called out because of its high tuition and dorm fees that force female students to resort to, in some cases, becoming sex There are endless complaints about how the school is only available to young people with trust funds but this argument doesn’t really hold since no one is being forced to attend NYU.
The film has many references to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire but to the point of 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 an interview with Judith Malina, co-founder of The Living Theater complaining, “Instead of dealing with art, I’m forced to deal with money.” Haven’t artists always had trouble with money? St. Vincent’s Hospital, the only major medical center in the neighborhood, was torn down and replaced by luxury condos. The film features endless talking heads bemoaning what’s happened to their beloved neighborhood but the arguments are so strident and however sympathetic you might be to them, you begin to tune out. Unfortunately “The Lost Village” wastes  its noble intentions with its rambling, diffuse arguments.  The Village has never lost its mystique as a neighborhood of freedom and beauty but during the last years, it has given rise to a ritual that’s become depressing. A local eating establishment that’s been there for years is suddenly gone and probably forever. Even beloved restaurants have to play by the rules of capitalism and these places have done that— they were popular and profitable. Until, that is, the rent the proprietors were paying suddenly got jacked up by 50 percent. Overnight, the place becomes unsustainable, and it closes. Then it sits as empty and abandoned, for months or even years until the space is taken over by a bank, a chain drugstore, a Starbucks, or maybe a new restaurant, with high-end backing, that no one ends up loving, and a year later it too is gone. This is what is happening to Greenwich Village. We can’t see it happening, but one day we notice. Market forces are on the march in society, and director Paradiso gives us  a top-down analysis of what’s happened to the Village that’s more convincing than not. The film gets very macro, full of thoughts on the rise of the global moneyed elite, all of which is relevant. (They’re the people buying insanely upscale co-ops in the new Greenwich Village.)
Yet “The Lost Village” is a documentary that should have been an elegy for something, but the film doesn’t do the loving and detailed historical work of showing us what it’s an elegy for. It uses half of its 89-minute running time to the real-estate depredations of New York University, and it’s here that the movie is onto something incendiary but seems to be driven by a personal  agenda. NYU, situated in between the East and West Village, has been eating up property for a long time, and the film indicts the university for what it sees as exploitative greed. This is a national problem. NYU, like many other universities, has become a ruthless corporation, but when it comes to demonstrating how that fact has affected the character of Greenwich Village, director Paradiso shows us some modern “ugly” buildings the university has put up. and he interviews the NYU professor Mark Crispin Miller standing in front of a sports center that’s about to be torn down to make room for more faculty housing. NYU is powerful enough to be seen as a land baron but the issue of what’s happened to Greenwich Village is a vastly different story. It has to do with independent landlords and the way the city has allowed and enabled them to do what they are doing and that includes the gradual entropy of outsider culture; the migration of gay culture from the Village to Chelsea; and other factors. Some of this is mentioned in the film, but it’s only mentioned and not explored. There’s not enough in “The Lost Village” about the Village that’s disappearing and about what it meant to people, and maybe still means.  “The Lost Village” has some insight but the spirit of the Village gets lost here. DVD BONUS FEATURES include:
Five Short Films:
1. The Best of the Roman Empire by Anthony Gronowicz
2. Mark Crispin Miller and His Battles with NYU
3. Michael Hudson College Tour Guide from Hell
4. Student Protest Election Night 2016
5. Mandy’s Story

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