A buzzed-about hit of this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival, director Ron Mann’s Carmine Street Guitars is an endearing tribute to guitar makers. Specifically, the spotlight is on Rick Kelly, a cell-phone-and-internet-eschewing and infectiously friendly legend famous for making Telecaster-shaped guitars from wood salvaged from old buildings in New York, which Turner calls “the bones of old New York.” Mann’s film is basically a one-location project — Turner’s longtime Greenwich Village store and workshop, where the director lavishes affectionate attention on the nitty gritty and glory of guitars, their care, mythology, and feeding.
No irritating narrator’s voice explains it all away: The visuals speak, as do talk and riffs by notable visitors such as Bill Frisell (playing a gorgeous rendition of “Surfer Girl”), Nels Cline (buying a guitar for his boss Jeff Tweedy’s 50th birthday), Marc Ribot, and Charlie Sexton. The film serves as a poetic homage to the spirit and also the legacy of a musical place and reputation. When Sexton test drives a brand-new guitar, its wood salvaged from NYC’s historic McSorley’s bar (est. 1854), the guitarist beams, saying “this guitar has a great vibe, just like this place.” And just like this special film.