director Lionel Rogosin
On the Bowery is a remarkable document. “Documentary” it is not, though its documentary elements are what make it so compelling and fascinating.
Even as it was being made, New York City’s Bowery was changing. The Third Avenue El looms above the Bowery in the film, but was actually torn down not long after the film was shot. The faces of the men in the film, too, are glimpses in time. Skid Row is Skid Row in any city and on any street at any place and time, but this is NYC 1950’s, and these haggard drunks are largely of European descent.
Alcohol was the primary vice. Today it’s probably a proliferated array of vices.
Director Lionel Rogosin spent time with these men before deciding to hire some of them to craft into a narrative. The drama gives shape to the work, but it’s the the men and the milieu that are so affecting.
I swear I’ve seen some shorter subject documentaries that were filmed perhaps around the same time. But it’s quite fascinating to peer into a world that is lost to time, at men who would otherwise be lost as well.