A 2k digital restoration is opening today at New York’s Film Forum, will run for a week, and we begin with Melissa Anderson, writing for Artforum: “Released in a handful of US cities in November 1989, Charles Lane’s debut feature, Sidewalk Stories, a micro-budgeted, melancholy comedy, is a much gentler, smaller, but no less impassioned portrait of New York and its woes at the tail end of the Koch administration than Spike Lee’s studio-backed Do the Right Thing, which opened nationwide in June of that year. Both Lee and Lane performed quadruple duty as director/writer/lead actor/producer for their respective projects, each of which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.”
“Sidewalk Stories doesn’t just hark back to The Kid,” writes Steve Macfarlane in Slant: “it formally revives the Chaplin classic in the street theater of Dinkins-era Greenwich Village. Buttressed by a down-and-out trombone solo that eventually warms itself up to a full symphony orchestra, Bill Dill’s Steadicam drifts curbside, taking in bums, hipsters, con men, junkies, and tourists, eventually settling on a scrappy, diminutive portrait artist (played by Lane) trying to work the block like everybody else. The sensation of seeing things unfold on a level playing field—simultaneously demeaning, voyeuristic, and naturally curious—helps reinforce the anonymity Lane proposes with the documentary-style snippets of life around town in the film’s introduction.”
This “consistently imaginative and enjoyable film follows […Lane] who forms a bond with a toddler after he witnesses her father being murdered,” writes Ashley Clark for Film Comment. “While evading the police (his fingerprints are on the knife), he cares for the young innocent, and embarks on a tentative, and touchingly improbable, romance with a beautiful businesswoman (Sandye Wilson) who comes to sit for a painting. Inspired by Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, the film moves with a clean, well-paced narrative, leaning on Marc Marder’s flexible score—which runs the gamut from lush orchestral arrangements, to faux mariachi, and pre-Seinfeld slap-bass riffs—for emotional shading. The diminutive, wide-eyed Lane is an expressive physical comedian, while his relationship with the toddler (played by Lane’s own daughter, which explains their magnetic bond) is especially moving.”
“For those who sneered at The Artist’s pseudo-silent style, its talkies-era filmmaking on mute, here’s the real deal,” writes Henry Stewart for the L. “Sidewalk Stories is pastiche, but it succeeds because Lane doesn’t just ape Chaplin’s aesthetic: he adopts his sincerity, too.”
“When Chaplin’s tramp meets hostile authority, we laugh at the romantic sight of a salt-of-the-earth everyman triumphing over petty tyrants,” writes Alan Scherstuhl in the Voice. “When Lane’s homeless man does the same, the laughter has a harsh edge: Here are white folks pushing around a black guy in modern New York, the confrontations still staged for comedy but cutting smartly—queasily—close to life itself. Remember that kid who got stopped-and-frisked for dropping a wad on a belt at Barneys last month? That kind of nastiness can’t be settled with a pie fight, and Lane and his Sidewalk Stories know it.”
Listening (14’54”). Lane’s a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.