Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is now so synonymous with hipster culture and the very idea of urban revitalization—so well-known from Chicago to Cambodia as the playground for the game of ironized status-seeking and lifestyle one-upmanship—that it’s easy to forget how, just a few years ago, it was a very different neighborhood: a spread of factories, mean streets and ratty apartments that the rest of New York City feared and everyone but artists with nowhere else to go left alone.
Robert Anasi hasn’t forgotten. He moved to a $300-a-month apartment in Williamsburg in 1994, and watched as the area went through a series of swift and surreal transformations: the warehouses became lofts, secret cocaine bars became stylized absinthe parlors, barrooms became stage sets for indie-rock careers and rents rose and rose—until the local artists found that their ideal of personal creativity had served the aims of global commerce, and that their neighborhood now belonged to someone else.
Tight, passionate, and provocative, The Last Bohemia is at once a celebration of the fever dream of bohemia, a lament for what Williamsburg has become and a cautionary tale about the lurching transformations of city neighborhoods throughout the United States.
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The explosion cracked the summer evening. Light flash and then smoke rising. Another crack and flash, and another, four in all, shredding air and reverberating in the basin of the empty pool. The two camera people watched, transfixed as the sound claps faded and smoke billowed around them. From somewhere in the cloud, a voice emerged.
You guys shot all that? Great. Let’s get out of here.
The artist stepped out of the cloud.
Pack up your cameras, he said. Come on! We’ve got to move!
In 1990, a young filmmaker named Esther