Two interviews will burn themselves into the brain of any film buff upon viewing the new documentary, “Always at the Carlyle.”
Tommy Lee Jones grins and jokes around and confesses to inviting the hotel concierge out to visit him at his ranch upon the man’s retirement.
And Harrison Ford, Jones’s most serious rival for the biggest grump in film, turns jovial and downright giddy, until the moment he realizes “Why didn’t I know about that?” when informed that there are bigger suites and better floors than he’s been “allowed” to check into in New York’s legendary Carlyle Hotel.
Even rich, accomplished grumps have a soft spot for The Carlyle.
The latest film from New York’s most aspirational documentarian, Matthew Miele (“Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s,” “Harry Benson: Shoot First”), “Always at the Carlyle” separates this discrete, swank East Central Park hostelry from the more famous (St. Regis, Waldorf Astoria, The Plaza) and infamous (The Algonquin, Hotel Chelsea) straight from the start.
George Clooney is sitting down, talking about the $20,000 a night Empire Suite as “a place that feels like home.” Jon Hamm is declaring it’s the place you go “that tells you you’ve made it.” Has he stayed there?
“No,” he jokes.
Britain’s Royal Family make it their New York HQ when they travel. And in Miele’s glittering, stately film, you understand why. His camera tours its restaurant, bars and world famous Cafe Carlyle, he talks with the “What happens at the Carlyle, stays at the Carlyle” staff — Ernesto the doorman, Lauren the phone operator, maids and concierges, many of whom have been there for decades (Salaries? Maybe. Tips? A better bet.).
The lobby, decorated with epic 17th century paintings, Bemelmans Bar, for the better part of a century an iconic, upscale watering hole of the well-heeled, its walls and lampshades decorated by “Madeleine” illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans, the glitzy front doors of the hotel, often crowded with paparazzi — there’s no place quite like it.
The staff don’t give away state secrets, but they talk about their “favorite guests” of every generation. Angelica Huston tells stories of her stays there with Jack Nicholson, Vera Wang waxes on about its timeless style, traveler and bon vivant Anthony Bourdain marvels, “How much longer can this exist?”
And superstar Harrison Ford gripes about “the closet” he’s stayed in, on occasion, and Hamm and others note how one could put a kid through college for the money you shell out for one of its more luxurious suites.
Yes, the Carlyle crowd may very well be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.
Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel”) knows it well. Maybe it was an inspiration. So does Jeff Goldblum, whose jazz combo has played in the bars.
But the most famous bar is the one made legend by the elegant, dapper and plummy voiced Bobby Short, who held forth from the piano there for decades. He’d turn up on “”60 Minutes,” in “Hannah and Her Sisters,” make repeated appearances on NPR, and even small towners who heard him got the essence of the place just from the sound of his voice.
He just oozed cafe society sophistication, refinement and taste. “Class,” the late Elaine Stritch told Miele shortly before her death, summing up Short, the hotel named for the Scottish writer and philosopher Thomas Carlyle but built by a Moses Ginsberg and everything “aspirational” about the place.
Through Short’s American Songbook jazz, I knew about the place long before I ever visited New York. And Miele’s documentary lets us know it even better, even if we can’t afford the cheapest rooms (not head-spinningly expensive).
That would be, of course, the “Harrison Ford Suite.”
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for some suggestive content, drug references and brief partial nudity
Cast: George Clooney, Elaine Stritch, Naomi Campbell, Sofia Coppola, Harrison Ford, Angelica Huston, Lenny Kravitz, Lee Jones, Jon Hamm, Wes Anderson, Jeff Goldblum
Credits: Written and directed by Matthew Miele. A Good Deeds release.
Running time: 1:31