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in Filmmaking
on Apr 4, 2007

There’s an eccentric tale of gentrification, “Revenge of the Mouse Coffins,” in this week’s Village Voice involving… Michel Gondry’s apartment.

Here’s the lede:

Filmmaker Michel Gondry—director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep—has taken over my old East Village apartment. I’m talking about the large, run-down Avenue B loft we got kicked out of last year after a long, expensive legal battle. The one my husband and his brother took turns living in for 15 years. The one we mistakenly believed was rent-stabilized, that we’d live in forever.

The piece, by Sari Botton, edges towards a righteous self-pity (“…we can’t help wondering whether he knows that a struggling writer and a musician got pushed out so he and his son could move in. And whether Gondry is shelling out top dollar to live in the space completely renovated—or in the same rustic, bohemian conditions we did.”) before becoming a clever illustration of gentrification cycles. It seems that Botton herself displaced another artist, the legendary Joe Coleman, when she took the apartment years ago. Here she describes viewing the flat while Coleman still had all his stuff there:

That winter evening, a long line of young prospective tenants wove down four flights of stairs to see the “spacious” railroad apartment, which had been advertised as a “two-bedroom” in this newspaper. Standing at the end of the line, I figured I didn’t have a chance. But then I saw that the line was moving quickly—too quickly. When my turn finally came to look around, I saw why everyone else had left so abruptly: Coleman and his stuff were freaking people out.

The living room had thick, black velvet curtains, and bizarre, creepy objects: a fetus in a jar; wax renderings of bloody, severed limbs; illustrations of people with their guts pouring out. And there was Coleman, decked out in Civil War regalia and sporting long, wide mutton-chop sideburns. He was missing several teeth and scowling, aggressively—cartoonishly—at the realtor from a corner of the kitchen, presumably not too happy about being evicted.

Still, I couldn’t imagine I was the only person who could see past all of Coleman’s gore and seething to the exposed brick walls, the decent amount of space, the relatively low rent. But no one else applied.

The piece’s title refers to what Botton found when she moved in: dead mice placed in homemade coffins by Coleman. Here she describes meeting Coleman years later; he asks whether she found anything he might have left behind.

“Yeah, thanks a million,” I kidded.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “I did that to get back at the landlord for making me leave my home.”

Now I know how he felt.

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