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Volume 79, Number 8 | July 29 - August 4, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

The Meat Market
A special Villager supplement

Florent Morellet, right, in a scene from “Florent: Queen of the Meat Market.”

Film has the dish on Florent and diner’s last days

By Albert Amateau

Florent, the Meat Market restaurant on Gansevoort St. that served meatpackers, club kids, drag queens, celebrities and just plain folks for 23 years before it closed last year, is re-created in David Sigal’s new documentary “Florent: Queen of the Meat Market.”

The film was shown as a work in progress on June 6 at New Fest, the New York gay and lesbian film festival, where it won the Audience Award.

“We brought it to the festival in a rough cut to get some feedback from the audience and the screening was sold out,” Sigal told The Villager last week. “It’s such a great subject, and Florent Morellet is a fascinating person.”

Sigal and his crew began shooting the film in January 2008 before Florent was definitely sure that the owner of 69 Gansevoort St. was going to triple the rent and force him out of business. During the course of the filming, the fate of the restaurant became clear but Sigal continued filming until the last day — the last minute during the early hours of Sunday June 29 of last year.

The film, still being edited, includes archive photos from 1985 when Morellet started the restaurant, and interviews with celebrities, including Julianne Moore, Isaac Mizrahi, Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Musto, Sylvia Miles, David Rakoff, Robin Byrd, Penny Arcade and Christo and Jeanne-Claude, plus a host of other characters. It intercuts old footage and new, fast-motion time lapses and talking heads. The film even includes a scene or two from more than a decade ago of an event where H.I.V. positive men and women fill the restaurant with their naked bodies.

Viewers who want to see and hear Florent himself will not be disappointed. He’s there, recalling how he responding to the news in 1987 that he was H.I.V. positive and how he decided to go public with it. He talks about how the Meat Market changed since he first opened the place. He talks about his partnership in the group that owns the decommissioned fireboat John J. Harvey and how the boat supplied the water for the Fire Department response to the World Trade Center attack.

There’s footage of Florent as grand marshal of the 2006 Gay Pride March striding with Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Hillary Clinton and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. There are scenes with Jo Hamilton — now chairperson of Community Board 2 — talking about their efforts that culminated in the designation of the Gansevoort Market Historic District in 2003. He talks about his political and social passions, like historic preservation and end-of-life issues; he was a board member of the Society for the Right to Die.

“Florent, Queen of the Meat Market” chronicles the last weeks of the renowned diner, with Florent explaining his decision to close the place rather than pay the tripled rent by noting he would have had to double or triple his prices.

“I’m glad I’m being kicked out,” he says in the film. “I’m being kicked forward.” And finally, “It was an absurd mix of people, a crazy mix, I’m going to miss it.”

Florent, who was traveling in New Mexico last week and helping to mount the artwork of his father, François Morellet, 83, a prominent painter, sculptor and installation artist, in a Santa Fe art gallery, spoke to The Villager by phone.

“I saw the film in its entirety for the first time at the festival — I was moved to tears,” he said. As for the future, Florent said he was talking to potential partners about a new restaurant — he wouldn’t say where — not to reproduce the old Florent, because the past cannot be recaptured, but a new mid-price place for a wide-ranging clientele.

Sigal is busy making a final cut of “Florent: Queen of the Meat Market” and has recently finished filming a feature, “Fair Game,” based on the case of Valerie Plame Wilson, the C.I.A. officer whose cover was blown in 2005.

“The location is Washington, D.C., but we filmed a scene that was supposed to be in Georgetown in the Meat Market,” he recalled.

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