|From the Ashes
The Life and Times of Tick Hall
|A documentary film by Scott Morris
featuring Dick Cavett and Carrie Nye
The New Jersey Star Ledger, July 2nd, 2003
Thomas Wolfe wrote a novel titled "You Can't Go Home Again." Wolfe might have amended that phrase if he'd lived to see the rebirth of Tick Hall, the historic seaside Montauk house that burned to the ground in 1997 and was meticulously reconstructed by its owners.
In the greater scheme of things, the story of Tick Hall is a small one, but it resonates beyond its tiny Long Island setting. It is retold in the documentary "From the Ashes: The Life and Times of Tick Hall" (10 tonight and 7 p.m. Saturday on Channel 13). This hour-long nonfiction piece by filmmaker Scott Morris , a transplanted Long Islander who has lived in Chatham for the past decade, is told simply and cleanly, in an assured, Old School style that never announces its own excellence. Like the historic house it chronicles, it seems to have been built with love, beam by beam, from the ground up.
The house was built in 1883 Montauk Association, a collection of seven seaside homes for rich folk. It gained its nickname from the ticks that 1920s owner Harrison Tweed and his family had to pick from the fur of their dogs.
The house eventually passed into the hands of talk show host Dick Cavett and his wife, Carrie Nye, who owned the place when it burned to the ground in 1997, consuming the entire structure and every memento and piece of furniture within it. The couple was devastated, and resolved to rebuild it exactly as it was before.
This was no small task. As the documentary explains, there are many architects who specialize in rebuilding or refurbishing old structures, but this assignment deprived them of their usual tools. The fire had destroyed any obvious clues about the house's dimensions and construction methods, and the original 1883 blueprints vanished when the architecture firm moved its offices over a century ago.
So the architects had to practice what Nye called "forensic architecture," deducing what they needed to know from whatever physical, written and photographic evidence they could find.
Among other sources, their dossier included snapshots by Cavett, Nye, and assorted friends and family members, and some handwritten measurements of the second floor rooms by a draper. The architects also visited other homes in the Montauk Association and studied everything from the floorboards to the molding, to gain insight into the style of artisans who built in the so-called shingle style, an architectural school that flourished in the United States for about 10 years in the 19th century.
Those who think a documentary about home-building can't be exciting will be surprised. "From the Ashes" is not just a documentary about people and their homes. It is also a procedural detective story --a gentle-spirited cross between "CSI" and "This Old House."
And while Morris' unobtrusive style never strains to make this point, "From the Ashes" can also be seen as a statement on the art of making movies about history -- a thankless job that mixes equal parts detective work, imagination and empathy.
-- Matt Zoller Seitz
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