Coming to PBS this Sunday, December 27: ASTOR BARBER ALL-STARS
Karen Gehres’ ode to a NYC institution debuted at the San Francisco DocFest last year. It has also screened at the Manhattan and Rome Independent fests.
Astor Place Hairstylists has been in operation since 1939, and run by the Vezza family since 1947, expanding from a small barbershop to three bustling floors in its heyday, which witnessed lines of waiting customers directed around the store via a megaphone. While those days have passed, the mom-and-pop shop still boasts about fifty stations in its cavernous digs in a neighborhood that’s otherwise steadily been absorbed by NYU and chain stores. Known for its inexpensive haircuts, multilingual barbers, and occasional celebrity clientele, it’s an unassuming place filled with NYC history which Gehres makes an admirable attempt to cover, providing those who have frequented the place with a healthy dose of nostalgia. Incorporating low-grade video footage from the barbershop’s storied past with more recent interviews with the business’ owners, employees, and clients, the film is ultimately too rough-hewn and local to make a larger impression, but it certainly succeeds in conveying a love for the establishment and its endurance in the face of a rapidly-vanishing old-school New York.