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Always at the Carlyle

by Rachel Willis

There are a few directions a film can take when focusing on a hotel with the kind of history as the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan. A historical retrospective of its place in New York would have cemented the hotel as one of the city’s vibrant hearts. A simple history of the hotel itself and its early struggles after opening during the Great Depression and its rise to prominence could have proved an interesting subject if explored.

However, director Matthew Miele focuses his documentary, Always at the Carlyle, on the shallowest of subjects—the hotel’s many famous guests.

A good chunk of the film feels like a promotional advertisement. Interviews with hotel staff highlight the hotel’s charms without diving too deeply into those charms. One of the staff was given the opportunity to stay in the room that Princess Diana frequented on her visits to New York. When asked by Miele if the room’s $10,000 per night fee is worth it, she says yes. It’s hard to imagine her saying anything else.

The rest of the film is interviews with its rich and famous guests. From George Clooney to Angelica Huston to Lenny Kravitz to Sofia Coppola, we’re told repeatedly why they find the Carlyle so inviting. They hint at scandals and extravagant parties, but no one ever divulges anything truly interesting.

There’s a lack of cohesion to the story Miele is trying to tell, so it’s not entirely clear what he hopes to accomplish. Part of the documentary focuses on the upcoming arrival of William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. From the initial call booking the room to the couple’s arrival, it could have been a lynchpin for the movie, but their story is abandoned half-way through the film. Instead, it’s simply another entry into the Carlyle’s roster of celebrity guests.

Miele’s film is, in some ways, representative of the worst of our celebrity-obsessed culture. It equates wealth with class, fame with sophistication, and the past as a time when things were “better.” It’s the same kind of culture that led to the death of the hotel’s frequent visitor, Princess Diana.

While The Carlyle may have an interesting story to tell, this documentary doesn’t do it.