Folks familiar with the 1960s- and ’70s-era heyday of South Beach as a winter haven or year-round home to working-class Jewish retirees from New York should especially find this film — part time capsule, part biopic, part mystery — both a vivid throwback and a fascinating reminder of a long-vanished legacy. Less initiated viewers will find much to discover.
The movie is mainly told through the lens of erstwhile friends and photography partners Gary Monroe and Andy Sweet, who, circa 1978, set out to document the vibrant older Jews (including many Holocaust survivors) who populated this sun-drenched paradise. Although Sweet took a looser, more colorful approach than Monroe, whose black-and-white work was more studied, their collaboration resulted in a poignant tribute to an inimitable time and place.
Along with input from an eloquent Monroe, Sweet’s sister and brother-in-law, filmmaker Kelly Reichardt and others, there’s strong archival footage and many examples of Sweet and Monroe’s fine photos. The movie also covers South Beach’s deterioration, demographic shifts and late-’80s reinvention as a trendy hot spot, as well as the sad tale of Sweet’s downward spiral and baffling murder in 1982 at age 28. It all makes for a rich and resonant experience.