“The Last Resort” is a powerful, yet bittersweet film that documents the oeuvre of two aspiring photographers, Andrew Sweet and Gary Monroe who, in the mid-1970s, began their quest to capture the fading community of Jewish retirees who settled in South Miami Beach. The film quickly becomes a story-within-a-story as directors Dennis Scholl and Kareem Tabsch carefully construct both the cultural history of this Jewish enclave of Miami along with the introduction of the photographic work of Sweet and Monroe. We gain insights into the opposing styles of these two photographers as they record the life and times of their subjects. Both men partner to begin a 10-year, ambitious collaboration called the “South Miami Beach Photographic Project.”
Sweet’s impromptu, off-kilter snapshots emerge with all their candy-colored, sun-drenched chroma while Monroe’s work, in black and white, maintains a more stoic and deliberately composed record of this waning group of Jews, many of whom were Holocaust survivors.
Sweet and Monroe’s photographs can be appreciated in the context of other important 20th century street photographers like Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Lisette Model. Through the lens, and this is especially true of Sweet’s, the diminishing, vibrant life of this aging population, the decline of the neighborhood and its urban transition in the early 1980s expose the sadness of a paradise lost.
The film reveals both the “joy and oy” of the lives of these elders and, sadly, of Sweet, whose brutal murder in 1982 is a jarring episode of this multi-layered story. The human tragedy is compounded by the loss of Sweet’s negatives while they remained in storage for many years. The finale of “The Last Resort” restores one’s belief in the consistent power and focus that photographs bring to our lives and of their connection with the stories that record humanity.
Marcia R. Cohen, visual artist and educator, is a professor emerita of SCAD Atlanta and maintains a full-time studio practice in Atlanta.