Even if you don't live in Brooklyn, you've probably somehow heard about Williamsburg. Paraded on every show from 2 Broke Girls to, ahem, Girls (yes, two very divergent titles), there's no escaping this extremely overexposed neighborhood. So what's one more tale about this pocket of Brooklyn that can't seem to take its head out of its own ass? The difference in Gut Renovation is that, instead of perpetuating overexposure, it exposes Williamsburg as it once was and what a fraud it has become. A harrowing look at the gradual then sudden surge of condominiums that sprung up in Williamsburg starting in 2005, the film intermingles images of a map being marked up to indicate how many new developments have been added to this incredibly small patch of an area. As a unique authority on the changes that occurred there, Friedrich began documenting the construction and gentrification that took place in the once working class neighborhood from the outset. Using the method of title cards to convey important information--as well as her own personal feelings of rage on the eradication of Williamsburg as she once knew it--Gut Renovation forces its audience to truly take in the facts presented to them. And the fact is, Williamsburg will never again be accessible to anyone but the affluent and morally bankrupt. But at least those who destroyed it did it for a lovely view of the Manhattan skyline.
For those who witnessed the barrage of condos cropping up along the waterfront and elsewhere, it seemed as though something might be done to stop it, but, the truth was, zoning committees and local government had already preordained Williamsburg's demise long ago. For where there's waterfront property and "cheap" buildings to be bought, a money-hungry developer is there to hone in on the profits. But even as wealthier denizens were buying up property at a staggering rate (often without even seeing what the apartment actually looked like), there was still the "hipster" crowd allegedly bringing an artistic element. But said hipsters were generally of a wealthy background. And while they may have had artistic pursuits, it's difficult to feel that inspired or focused when you're receiving a steady flow of income from your parents that can keep you at the bar for most of the night. Although Friedrich makes no mention of the influx of the hipster crowd, her camera says it all. As she films the various passersby on different blocks in Williamsburg, it's easy to see that everyone seems to share a similar, deliberately disheveled aesthetic.
Perhaps the best part about Gut Renovation is Friedrich's openness about her biased opinion--because, any way you slice it, how can what's happened to Williamsburg really be defended? There are those who will say that the additions of condos and chains like Duane Reade and the inevitable Urban Outfitters are signs of progress. But those are the people who have profited from the swift and abrupt changes that have forced decades-long residents to leave the area. Friedrich, who admits to having a comfortable job as a professor during the course of the film, says that even she couldn't pay some of the asking prices for the more "affordable" condos. She even endures the nauseating research process of going to each of the numerous condos (with names like Ikon, The Williamsburg and The Edge). What Friedrich discovered was that most of the condos look as homogenous on the inside as they do on the outside and that one bedrooms generally start at $880,000. Welcome to Condoburg indeed.
"Picasso was the last great artist. The rest of these so-called artists should eat shit and move on." So goes the final line of of Su Friedrich's Gut Renovation, in which she reads from a list of online comments in response to a blog that posted a picture of this tag she put up on the wall. That's it, that's the end. She doesn't try to defend the importance of artists or their contribution to a community. Because, at this juncture, there's no point. What happened in Williamsburg is a tragedy that can't be remedied. But at least, with this film, it's been given a loving eulogy.