The documentary "Always at The Carlyle" by writer and director Matthew Miele sets out to be a behind the walls story of the legendary and iconic international destination hotel for the jet-set and those that know that hip is often understated elegance born decades ago.
It's the type of documentary that gives you more than you knew going in, in an unexpected odd playful tone but with this one, sadly, you are left with less than you had hoped for and nothing more than a glitzy hotel ad that calls itself a doc. Choppy outline structure and lack of content do not tell a meaningful story that leaves you impacted by the true legacy of the iconic subject matter of this luxury institution. An overpowering level of music makes you have to work for any tiny golden moment. It truly feels like a promotional video in a feature-length format. You enter with a fascination but keep waiting for a movie of strong storytelling sequence with actual meat. The high levels of music are placed in areas where music is not needed as it takes away from the power of the soundbites so the story is not moved along but rather stops for just about every bite, distracting from the substantial information that had to come your way and the hopeful even more substantial answers that should have been extracted. True auditory calisthenics is needed to hear all that is said while the film jumps consistently in a jagged format. (There are specific basic journalistic and filmmaking techniques, in telling such historical legacy stories, that were just missed.) Sadly, the film reveals little and almost feels like gossip. Yes, the subject matter was ripe for a doc and the vintage still photos and footage are indeed classic but you end up with trivial anecdotes from here to there and everywhere.
The A-list celebrity names who speak on camera (and chose to speak on camera which is notable) are strong to have in your marketing campaign. The tale of Lenny Kravitz was strong but overall the interviewing, final script planning and editing, all needed help - even if "what happens at The Carlyle stays at The Carlyle" type thing. We understand and love that about this hotel but there was much more elegant meat to be had that could have gone on camera with different interview questions and interviewing and script/editing techniques. For a hotel of this stature, this approach to filmmaking was not up to this hotels standards.
The promotional release says writer/director Miele’s Always at The Carlyle brings to life a few untold stories of this legendary hotel as heard from the mouths of its own employees and top clientele, including George Clooney, Anjelica Huston, Tommy Lee Jones, Vera Wang, Anthony Bourdain, Roger Federer, Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, Jon Hamm, Lenny Kravitz, Naomi Campbell and Elaine Stritch but the editor did not include the susbstance from them (but then maybe they could not get anyone to tell meaningful stories of how the hotel runs like clockwork with class and grace or how guests are treated and stories of why it has earned its accolades etc) We needed to see the hotel in its early days, how it evolved and WHY it has surpassed. We needed more than a current glimpse into the culture and celebrity.
The bit of history from concierge Dwight Owsley, the bellman Danny Harnett, and bartender Tommy Rowles at Bemelmans for 50 years was great. The bar was named after Ludwig Bemelmans, who did the Madeline books which are so worth seeing on the walls if you never have. Café Carlyle's history is revealed nicely where singer-pianist Bobby Short entertained until he died in 2005 but too much time was spent on this and not enough on how this place began and got us to where we are today. We definitely needed to hear more from the owner on the family history and his vision for today. He had to be moved way up in the storyline and respectfully given more time on camera to tell us about the reason this hotel became so historic beyond hosting British Royals and celebrities and rubbing shoulders. Hotels of this magnitude do not survive only on shoulder rubbing. It is all they offer with discretion. Define discretion for us. We were told of none of the levels of what this place was and is and how it got there. The scene of visuals of a staff member primping a room was one of the strongest. We needed more of that, tell us what they do, take us into a staff meeting that the cameras were allowed to shoot, let us see the true inner workings and the history, why and what this hotel actually means to people, how it makes you feel. And - for those who are not familiar with this true legacy - explain why this movie was needed - to get audiences invested early on in the first 20 minutes. Sadly, the story jumps with us being caravaned from scene to scene - that the true journey of exploration and insight is lost. All in all, hearts were not tugged, the history teacher called in sick that day, and we are left with just peeked interest and a desire for a sequel with poise, panache, and substance. Bottom line - the vintage b-roll is nice but the placement and content of this story needed adjustment for a beginning, middle and an ever so beautiful graceful end.
(By the way, luxury hotels are a passion of mine, as are legacy landmarks that reign with true elegance.)
Press release synopsis:
For over 87 years, The Carlyle Hotel has been a classic landmark of Manhattan’s elegant Upper East Side. It has been revered as a destination for the discerning traveler, as well as a favorite haunt for the most prominent residents of New York City. Miele (Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s, Harry Benson: Shoot First!) is now telling the story of The Carlyle in a feature-length documentary to be released worldwide in early 2018.
For the past 87 years, The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel has been the definition of class and a calling card for Manhattan’s elegant Upper East Side. But while it has housed some of the world’s most famous clientele, the stories within the walls of the hotel rarely leave the premises. Until now. In Always at The Carlyle, writer/director Matthew Miele (Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s, Harry Benson: Shoot First!) presents the untold stories and well-kept secrets of The Carlyle in a feature-length documentary to be released worldwide. In the works for more than three years, Always at The Carlyle offers an exclusive and provocative peek into the pop culture history of the renowned hotel, all from the mouths of The Carlyle’s own guests and employees. George Clooney, Anjelica Huston, Tommy Lee Jones, Vera Wang, Anthony Bourdain, Roger Federer, Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, Jon Hamm, Lenny Kravitz, Naomi Campbell and Elaine Stritch join the more than 100 personalities sharing their favorite stories and unique insights in this exposé of New York City’s legendary hotel.
The press release goes on to say: In production for over three years, Always at The Carlyle provocative peek into the pop culture history of the renowned hotel. Over 100 personalities, guests and employees have been interviewed to discover their best stories and share their unique insight into the legendary address.
What we get is some of that - but the layout and that sound issue overpower the film from beginning to end. I so wanted to love it. I absolutely love these type of docs when executed with precision and heart. Layout in that history should come first - before cute stories. Set the stage, teach us the history, walk us down memory lane and then come to current day. Sadly the story does not flow to leave you feeling a sense of journey. what it does do is feel like tidbits of interesting stories but due to not being stung together fluidly - one leaves watching end credits - feeling "nice hotel but not getting that soulful feeling of true touching us from the inside.
Signature personalities featured in the film were definitely needed for this otherwise the structure would have suffered too much and the film not given any weight; Clooney, Anjelica Huston, Tommy Lee Jones, Vera Wang, Anthony Bourdain, Roger Federer, Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, Jon Hamm, Lenny Kravitz, Naomi Campbell and Elaine Stritch to name a few. Additionally, staff that is famous in their own right – from Dwight Owsley, one of the adored concierges for 36 years to Tommy Rowles, the well-known Bemelmans bartender for over 50 years –have also shared their experiences about the beloved property.
Although many documentaries focus on a person, an event, a cause, etc., Always at The Carlyle seeks to continue Miele's fascination with what, how, and when something becomes iconic in the world and that it great that he attempts to execute from that level. He is right in saying that - iconic is tough to define until one senses it through personal experience or intimate knowledge, with it normally relating to historical figures, works of art, a popular product, or a storied location. This documentary intends to bring the audience into the singular hotel in the world that has become iconic. Yes, I agree with all this but sadly the result is - it needed one more big pass of vetting, restructuring and quality control. But yes - iconic done this way - was great.
Interview with the writer/director:
Q: WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO TELL THE STORY OF THE CARLYLE?
A: This film continues a theme in my work which is focusing on why something has become iconic in our culture like The Carlyle and what about it should be celebrated and sustained as we all experience this rapidly changing world. Condoleezza Rice sums it up nicely in the film with her quote “this hotel represents the best of who we were”...and George Clooney follows that up with “it’s not just a place to lay your head.” I believe that about The Carlyle. It’s not just a hotel, it’s an aspirational place where the exceptional and the eccentric collide, congregate and celebrate.
Q: YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE HOTEL?
A: Probably Bemelmans Bar. This could be argued to be the best bar in the world. It was named after Ludwig Bemelmans, an artist (most notably of the children's’ Madeline books) who painted the walls of the bar with his signature and whimsical characters in exchange for staying in the bar for 18 months. So what started so innocently, and ironically with a children’s book in a collage surrounding the bar, has become the most unlikely popular bar not only in New York but a destination for people from around the world.
Q: WHAT YOU MOST ENJOYED ABOUT MAKING THE FILM?
A: This was a film you start out thinking and having high hopes for when it comes to the stories you can tell and who can tell them. And over time, as in any film, you begin to temper your hopes because things might not work out as you’d hoped. I can honestly say this film never let me down with my original vision for it. I spoke with The Carlyle about who they believed would be the ideal guests and regulars who would speak to me. Obviously, that list if very A-list and quite formidable, but I am thrilled to say that they all came out for the film and were happy to do it! It has such a stellar cast and I am so happy that because of their celebrity, more people will watch and discover this film.
Q: WHAT WERE SOME OF THE PRODUCTION PARTICULARS, TIME IT TOOK, ETC?
A: All told, this film took exactly four years from the time we rolled camera. Not that we filmed daily or even weekly, but my personal presence in the hotel was practically daily. I did not want to make this a ‘fly by night’ production. To really understand The Carlyle, or anything iconic, you really have to immerse yourself in the culture of it, the people, the atmosphere, the things that are not tangible. I was nervous if my camera would capture what seems to have an emotional and generational response for many people, and time will tell if it did. But what I am most proud of is that The Carlyle loves the film. From the owners to the doormen, the elevator operators to the room service staff, they all really enjoy the film and feel that it “gets” the place, which really cannot be put into words, but must be experienced.
Q: WHAT SURPRISED YOU THE MOST WHILE FILMING?
A: Probably the broad appeal of the hotel. It really caters to all walks of life, but moreover, all kinds of celebrated icons in their own right. From Jack Nicholson to Prince William, Roger Federer to Jackie Onassis, it really has no industry or individual it doesn’t appeal to... I actually have viewed the VIP list on a few occasions and it’s always a who’s who from tech, science, the arts, politics, etc.
Q: WHAT DO YOU HOPE FOR THE FILM?
A: This film is about legacy... I truly want a new generation to discover why this hotel is so special and celebrate why it’s iconic and continue its appeal into the future. I think it will gain attention and word of mouth as people discover it, much like the hotel.
Written and Directed by Matthew Miele
Produced by Jennifer Cooke
Producers: Matthew Miele, Justin Bare
Executive Producer: Stephen McCarthy
Executive Producers: Julie Candelaria, Kristin Harris, Scott Donley, Brandon Hill Co-Executive Producers: William Lyons, Cynthia Lyons, Clive Gershon Director of Photography: Justin Bare
Edited: J. Mac Edgerton
Original Music: Earl Rose
Associate Producers: Mary D’Souza, Michael Weismann, Christopher Walker Motion Graphic Artists: Ryan Sears, Agnes Gunawan
Music Supervisor: Linda Cohen
Camera Operators: Adam Giese, Alex Gittleson, J. Mac Edgerton, Matthew Miele Colorist: Brian Gibson
Digital Intermediate Provided: SIM International
Re-Recording Mixer: Gerard Collins
Production Counsel: Lisa Callif
Publicity: Marion Koltai
Transcripts: Gay Isaacs
Production Accountant: Arnie Herrmann and Graphics: Big Sky VFX Exec Prod.: Cheryl Panek Sarah Van Tassel Prod.: Ali Corise