Antiques dealer Billy Leroy recently shut down the New York shop that bears his name. Billy’s Antiques and Props sat at the corner of Houston and Bowery for nearly thirty years, but the neighborhood that was once synonymous with flophouses and CBGBs has rapidly shed its gritty personality for Whole Foods and upscale boutiques. It’s a story that’s happening all over New York, as the grimy character that makes the city so exciting is sanitized for the Sex in the City crowd. The story of Billy’s Antiques and the gentrification of the Lower East Side would make a great documentary. But Dirty Old Town, directed by Jennifer Furst and Daniel B Levin, and starring Leroy as himself, creates a fictional world that is most interesting when pieces of the real world become visible.
The very basic plot revolves around money or the lack of it. Leroy can’t make the rent and is harassed by Samoan henchmen and a corrupt police detective (an effectively high strung Scott Dillin). Leroy’s best friend Nicky is played by Nicholas de Cegli, whose tall lumbering figure made me wish character actor Timothy Carey were alive. Janell Shirtcliff stars as Rachel, a woman young enough to be Leroy’s daughter who hangs around the shop and seems to exist for a male fantasy subplot.
The shakedown is at least appropriate to the background of a neighborhood ruined by greed, but another subplot involving a stolen bust of Hitler is just silly. Maybe it was based on Leroy’s own experiences, but sometimes truth is more interesting than fiction, and sadly that’s the case with Dirty Old Town. De Cegli is a regular in the films of one time Mermaid Parade King Abel Ferrara, who anoints this DVD with the enthusiastic blurb, “This Movie is Fucking Real.” If only it were.