Film Review: ALWAYS AT THE CARLYLE (USA 2018) ***

The iconic Carlyle hotel has been an international destination for a particular jet-set as well as a favorite haunt of the most discernible New Yorkers.


Matthew Miele


Matthew Miele

Documentaries are made for varying reasons. They could be for education, to inform the world of some little known subject, to celebrate a famous person, to whistle blow or to honour a person in a biography.  ALWAYS AT THE CARLYLE, the new documentary written and directed by Matthew Miele celebrates a famous hotel – the famous hotel called the Carlyle.

The iconic Carlyle hotel has been an international destination for a particular jet-set as well as a favourite haunt of the most discernible New Yorkers.  This documentary celebrates glamour – the glamour of the hotel (the cost of a suite could go for as high as $22,000) and the glamour of the guests that have stayed there.  The list of guests includes stars Woody Allen, Wes Anderson, Anthony Bourdain, Naomi Campbell, George Clooney, Sofia Coppola, Alan Cumming and Jon Hamm as well as Presidents and dignitaries like John F. Kennedy and Ted Roosevelt.

The Carlyle Hotel enjoys the reputation popularized by recent movies like the JOHN WICK films and HOTEL ARTEMIS with Jodie Foster.  In these films, a hotel would service any client no matter what background with everyone treated fairly and equally despite any shadiness. At the Carlyle, the management declined to tap the rooms of any suspicious clientele as all hotel guests are treated with respect.  The example given is the request by the government agency to  tap the Iraqi delegation that stayed there during the Gulf War.  No was the answer.

Whatever happens at the Carlyle stays at the Carlyle.  That is the saying and understand of both the staff and guests of the plush expensive hotel.  Even the names of the celebrities are not disclosed by the staff.

Director Mile has assembled a varied cast of interviewees to shed light on the hotel.  Besides the stars mentioned, the hotel staff, many of whom have spent their entire lives working there.  These include Kim of Room Service, Ernesto the doorman, Helal the waiter and several of management from sales to decor designer.

The film reveals the uniqueness of the Carlyle, in the words of both sides, the clientele and staff.  The art decor, the personal friendliness, the class, the care taken and style are a few of the factors.  The staff also speak of their favourite encounters.  George Clooney (who also speaks to the camera in an interview) and John F. Kennedy top the list of the staff’s favourite guests.

What is a hotel without some wicked scandal?  The hotel staff is asked about Marilyn Monroe and Kennedy and about many young and super gorgeous twenty-somethings that enter the hotel doors.  Fortunately, the staff is discreet.

The film’s highlights are the performances that take place at the hotel’s cafe.  A seat is reputed to cost at least $150 with a minimum of a $75 order.  One of the most popular performers is Bobby Short who is shown performing in a brief clip.  His performance and the hotel are also featured in Woody Allen’s film HANNAH AND HER SISTERS.  Woody Allen is also featured playing the clarinet in the cafe.

ALWAYS AT THE CARLYLE is entertaining fluff.  The film celebrates celebrities.


Film Review: HARRY BENSON: SHOOT FIRST (USA 2016) ***

harry_benson_shoot_first_movie_posterDirectors: Justin Bare, Matthew Miele
Writers: Justin Bare, Matthew Miele
Stars: Harry Benson, Alec Baldwin, Gigi Benson

Review by Gilbert Seah

Directors Matthew Miele and Justin Bare are the co-founders of Quixotic Endeavors, a multimedia production company focusing on subjects with an iconic theme. In their new documentary, their subject is Scottish photographer Harry Benson, now 86. The documentary charts the illustrious career of the renowned photographer who initially rose to fame alongside The Beatles, having been assigned to cover their inaugural trip to the United States in 1964. With unprecedented behind the scenes access, Benson captured some of the most vibrant and intimate portraits ever taken of the most popular band in history.

The two most famous of these is the pillow fight in their hotel and the one in a gym with Muhammed Ali.

Miele and Bare’s film is quite plain in terms of narrative and research. They let the fame and photographs of Benson speak for themselves. And this is a good thing. It also helps that Benson is still alive and able to give a perspective of both his work and life as he is present from the start to end of the film. Among the interviewed are his wife (behind every successful man is a woman), his assistant and various famous icons in the publishing and fashion world.

The film also charts his background back to Scotland. There is a segment where Benson visits his old house and school. The interviewed are asked what they thought was the secret of Benson’s success. The answer is hard work. Benson would leave everything at any moment if there is an opportunity for a good photograph. He had to be at the right place at the right time. Then comes the part of creating art out of his work. Benson hated posing and wanted his subjects to be shot candidly.

The paparazzi side of Benson is also mentioned. He captured a private shot of ageing star Greta Garbo to her chagrin. Other private shots, however, he was given permission like to shoot the shaved head of Elizabeth Taylor right after her surgery.

The film is fascinating for all the celebrities Benson has shot during his career. These included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Charles De Gaulle, Michael Jackson in his private ranch and even Sir Winston Churchill.

The question arises as to which of his photographs are the best. The one on the cover of Vanity fair with Ronald and Nancy Reagan dancing is one of them. The two with the Beatles are another two. There is also a great one with Bill Clinton kissing his wife. The photographs speak for themselves and illustrate Benson’s talent. Directors Miele and Bare ensures that the audience see the talent as well.

HARRY BENSON: SHOOT FIRST is a very easy-going watchable film. All one needs to do is sit back and enjoy Benson’s work, travelling through time and observing candid shots of celebrities through the years. There is as a bonus, Benson’s work in areas of war and famine that show human suffering.



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