The Ballad Of Greenwich Village

  • 2005
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Documentary

Filmmaker Karen Kramer only skims the surface of New York City's Greenwich Village, a storied tangle of twisty, cobblestoned streets on Manhattan's Lower West Side, but her serviceable survey offers a few insightful interviews and some great archival footage. Opening with a quote from literary critic Alfred Kazin that asks where but Greenwich Village could...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Filmmaker Karen Kramer only skims the surface of New York City's Greenwich Village, a storied tangle of twisty, cobblestoned streets on Manhattan's Lower West Side, but her serviceable survey offers a few insightful interviews and some great archival footage. Opening with a quote from literary critic Alfred Kazin that asks where but Greenwich Village could a rebellious freethinker settle, Kramer traces the neighborhood's antiauthoritarian roots back to 1811, when Village residents insisted on maintaining the borders formed by streams and Indian paths rather than conform to the grid pattern of streets and avenues that would soon demarcate the rest of Manhattan. That spirit of rebellion continued to define the Village for the next three centuries, and Kramer describes the way innovative movements in art, poetry, politics, literature, social activism and music originated in this relatively tiny wedge of downtown Manhattan real estate. Once a grungy, inexpensive haven for immigrants, the 20th-century Village became a mecca for political radicals (John Reed); bold new playwrights (Eugene O'Neill); modernist writers (Djuna Barnes); Beat poets (Allen Ginsberg); abstract expressionists (Jackson Pollock); folkies (Bob Dylan); gay rights activists (the habitues of the Stonewall bar); and all the legendary musicians who jammed at the legendary jazz club, Café Society (Art Tatum, Billie Holiday). Well-known Village residents past and present, including Tim Robbins, Norman Mailer, Maya Angelou and the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary, weigh in on what it meant to live in the Village of yesteryear, while less famous artists, drag performers and writers discuss the current reality. Ironically, soaring rents and an exorbitant cost of living mean that today's Greenwich Village is affordable only for those at the top of the financial heap &— monied art collectors rather than artists. Kramer's film lays much of the blame for this ongoing transformation from bohemia to luxury condo-land squarely at the door of New York University, the single largest owner of real estate in both the East and West Villages. At only 70 minutes, the film is best taken as a brief tourist's guide to one of the most famous neighborhoods in the world, but those most interested in seeing it — New Yorkers themselves — will probably be left wanting a bit more.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Filmmaker Karen Kramer only skims the surface of New York City's Greenwich Village, a storied tangle of twisty, cobblestoned streets on Manhattan's Lower West Side, but her serviceable survey offers a few insightful interviews and some great archival foota… (more)

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