The lifestyles of the rich and the famous are at the center of writer-director Matthew Miele’s documentary about the 88-year old New York landmark The Carlyle Hotel. Built in 1930 by Russian emigrant Moses Ginsburg and lavishly decorated by Dorothy Draper, the iconic playground for the world’s elite which includes several Presidents, movie stars, athletes, and billionaires, prides itself on being discreet. If these walls could talk they would probably reveal some scandalous moments, instead the audience is left with tidbits of chitchat by various celebrities and employees who share their feelings about the iconic hotel.
Miele is clearly in love with New York City and who can blame him. After taking audiences behind the scenes of the renowned Fifth Avenue department store Bergdorf Goodman with the 2013 documentary “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” and then giving similar treatment to the legendary jewelry store Tiffany & Co. in 2016’s “Crazy About Tiffany’s,” it seems like The Carlyle is just a natural progression for the writer-director who remains off-camera as the film’s interviewer.
While most of us will never stay at the luxury hotel don’t feel bad, Jon Hamm remarks “If you stay here you feel like you’ve made it,” but when asked by Miele if he’s ever stayed there Hamm responds, “I’ve never stayed here.” Tommy Lee Jones, a frequent guest comments “There’s really no place like home but I think the Carlyle is pretty close” and then remarks he’s getting bored with the interview. If you love celebrities there are plenty of them here, all praising the hotel on the Upper East Side. Wes Anderson says, “It feels like your stepping back in time” while George Clooney calls The Carlyle “an aspirational place where the exceptional and the eccentric collide, congregate, and celebrate.” If it sounds like an infomercial that’s because it is an infomercial. Miele was pleased that everyone at the hotel loved the documentary, but why wouldn’t they? It’s 92-minutes of infotainment.
Still, it’s interesting to hear the history associated with The Carlyle and watching archival footage of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s stay back in 2014 feels a bit magical. The Royals have always enjoyed the iconic hotel, it was a favorite of Princess Diana.
The accommodations for such high-profile guests start around $10,000 per night which is not an issue for the top 1 percent. According to Piers Morgan, the world’s most powerful elevator ride took place at The Carlyle as Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, and Steve Jobs rode in the elevator at the same time.
“Always at the Carlyle” shines the brightest when the documentary spotlights the everyday men and women responsible for the hotel’s success, the employees.
Like the guests, you’ll fall in love with Head Concierge Dwight Owsley, a classy beautiful human being who recently retired after 36 years on the job. It’s heartbreaking to hear his reason for stepping down, but Owsley’s spot-on observation about society is not without merit.
Highlights also include a tour of the famed Bemelmans Bar inside The Carlyle, named in honor of Ludwig Bemelmans the creator of the Madeline children’s books. His distinctive artwork adorns the walls of the Art Deco bar which features the only surviving Bemelmans' commission accessible to the public. Then there’s the infamous Café Carlyle which has played host to the legendary Bobby Short, Woody Allen, Jeff Goldblum, and Elaine Stritch.
Staying at The Carlyle is like joining a fight club. As one staffer put it “We don’t talk about our guests. It’s the reason people feel so comfortable staying here.” Tommy the Bartender reiterates that sentiment, “What happens here stays here” and so there are no juicy stories or scandalous moments but if you love New York you’ll enjoy the behind the scenes look at one of the city’s iconic treasures.
Opens Friday, June 1st at the Regal Arbor 8 @ Great Hills (Austin)
Joe Friar is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. He co-founded the Victoria Film Society and reviews films for Hit Radio 104.7 and the Victoria Advocate.