“7th Street” is essentially a home movie, but most likely not the kind that many of you make. In yours, there may be relatives that make you wonder whether DNA were code letters for “switched at birth”. Here, director Josh Pais takes a long look (filmed between 1992-2002) at his beloved 7th Street, located between Avenues C & D in Alphabet City in New York’s East Village, showing his love for everything and everyone that he profiles.
Pais was born to a father who was a theoretical physicist who worked with Albert Einstein and a mother who was a free spirit as well as a poet and a painter. After his parents divorced, he and his mother moved to 7th Street (this was 1967) and his experiences were vast and interesting as interviews with people of his past prove.
There’s Manny, who is an old, but feisty man, now collecting cans for recycling, but back then during his days at 7th Street, he spent his time fighting Italian and Irish gains to get into the public baths during the Depression. Merlin is considered a “local sage”, who reads all the time, but thinks of himself “the neighborhood greeter”. Much of what he says during his interviews rings very true in life. Rino Thunder, a Native American who was once a lover of Josh’s mother is also given time here and his story becomes one of the most affecting as time passes on through South Street.
Pais gives ample time to all his interviewees, painting a picture of a neighborhood changed by time and situations, including drugs and the arrival of real estate developers and yuppies, following along like a puppy nipping at the heels of its owner. Pais’ own experiences mix into this whole thing, not only in being among these people, but also being forced to put down his camera in 1995 after a drug dealer threatened the safety of his wife and child and subsequently picking it up again.
“7th Street” is a good documentary and like a member of Josh’s “street family” used to say: “There are two ways to learn about the world. One way is to travel all over the planet and see all the different lands. And the other way is to stay in the same place.” Pais stayed in the same place and the result is a good documentary.