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Sidewalk Stories | Blu-ray Review

Charles Lane Sidewalk Stories Blu-ray CoverBeautifully restored and available for the first time on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber’s distribution deal with Carlotta US, the Cannes premiered 1989 directorial debut of American director Charles Lane, Sidewalk Stories, arrives for recapitulation into the cinematic zeitgeist. A black and white silent film that’s an homage, and somewhat mutated modernization of Chaplin’s classic film, The Kid (though it’s sound design would be more akin to Chaplin’s Modern Times), Lane’s heartfelt and endearing film plays like a time capsule love letter to the eternal city. At the same time, it represents a chapter in the enduring evolution of the representation of the homeless, a changing landscape often unnoticed, a detail written off as an unavoidable constant.

A homeless street artist (Charles Lane) lives off the meager sum he receives while drawing portraits, though he faces stiff competition from neighboring peers. One evening, he witness the murder of one of his customers from earlier in the day, stabbed in a dark alley. Leaning down to try and help the man, he vows to take care of the man’s two year old daughter (Nicole Alysia), whose mother the artist must track down. Meanwhile, he takes the child home with him, where he squats in an abandoned church that has been scheduled to be demolished.

Attempting to protect and feed the young child as best he can while he tries to figure out where her mother lives, the artists shoplifts clothes at a store run by a woman (Sandye Wilson) that had attempted to hire him earlier. She recognizes him and lets him leave the store with the merchandise seeing that he’s now charged with caring for a child. Visiting him later to get her portrait completed, the artist sneaks money into her coat. The woman finds herself falling in love with this charming man with the young girl, and she invites them to dine with her at her fancy apartment, where the doorman has a problem with letting the artist enter. The duo encounter other dangers, until, finally, he’s able to determine where her mother lives.

Set in the 1989 streets of Greenwich Village, there’s much of Sidewalk Stories that may seem anachronistic—why doesn’t the artist simply take the child to the police or a shelter? Sans getting into darker issues, such as the troubling relationship the police tend to have with the homeless and anything other than white, affluent communities, the film’s format would hardly dictate something so simple as it’s exploring the visual communication of a style long past.

Observe the differences between your consumption of a silent film versus a talkie—you have to immerse yourself more completely, and to today’s audiences, this serves to be more exhausting as it requires thought process and some actual interaction with the material. But this determines a certain romance with the endearing tale, enhanced by the entrancing pieces composed by Marc Marder. It makes you want to believe the almost staggering impossibility of a beautiful woman like that played by a lovely Sandye Wilson letting a homeless man and a child into her home, and even resort to a tentative, meaningful kiss as they part.

Disc Review

Kino Lorber’s resuscitation of Sidewalk Stories is one of those rare gems hard to come by, an actual lost classic buried by time and unavailability. Beautifully presented with this 2K digital restoration, Bill Dill’s resplendent black and white cinematography births its own nostalgic aura, opening with a Steadicam shot drinking in the milieu of artists and performers living off the streets as the city bustles on around them.

Charles Lane and composer Marc Marder speak for nearly half an hour about the making of the film. The child was played by Lane’s actual daughter, which he tried to keep secret as long as possible, and he relates interesting details about how he got her used to the camera for filming. Besides obviously influenced by Chaplin’s The Kid, Lane also cites a 1959 Hayley Mills film from director J. Lee Thompson, Tiger Bay, as another inspiration.

A Place In Time (1977):
A thirty four minute short film directed by Lane serves as the original project that initiated what would become Sidewalk Stories. Lane also plays a homeless man here in a tale a bit darker and more serious than the feature he would come to direct.

Final Thoughts

As the packaging itself points out, Sidewalk Stories arrived twenty years before 2011’s Best Picture winner The Artist, though the magic Lane inspires happens to include a darker, melancholic edge as the film often seems like a documentary, and it’s portrait of the homeless has been hailed as equaling the cinema verite heights of similar urban landscapes from the period that include Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) and John Singleton’s Boyz ‘n the Hood (1991). Sidewalk Stories played in the Director’s Fortnight Sidebar at Cannes, and it allowed Lane to make a studio film with Walt Disney, 1991’s True Identity. The box office performance of that sophomore feature killed the career of star Lenny Henry, who was being groomed as an up and comer, and it would be Lane’s last directorial effort to this day, which explains why his name isn’t on par with the likes of Lee and Singleton. But with a little luck, the availability of the inspired and endearing Sidewalk Stories will generate interest in a pair of projects he’s been attempting to get off the ground.

Film: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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