Chelsea on the Rocks

Chelsea on the Rocks

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Abel Ferrara’s first documentary is about one of his favorite places in the world: the Chelsea Hotel—its crumbling facades and walls lined with modern art, the winding staircases and rickety elevators, and especially its colorful denizens, whose voices are usually husky and thick from years of hard living in New York City. This haven for maverick artists is a character in its own right, and those who live there share their stories from over the years, most of them having to do with sex, drugs, death, or mayhem. Film director Milos Forman, who lived there for two years, recalls a woman who was drowned by the fire hoses putting out the smoke from her burned sirloin tips (on that same night, Forman had to escape his room naked from the waist down, forcing him to borrow a skirt from his neighbor across the hall). Other anecdotes include an artist recounting how his friend went mad and slashed all his paintings, but he was forgiving because, after all, everyone bears the scars of life. The talking-head interviews are intercut with archive footage of NYC icons such as Andy Warhol, William S. Burroughs, and Rockets Redglare, as well as footage of Ferrara himself wandering the halls, examining a nude painting and sticking his face in its crotch, or numbly standing in a guest’s room that clearly hasn’t been cleaned or organized in 25 years. Ferrara is as emblematic a presence as anyone else in his picture, hulking and belligerent, cutting off his interview subjects midstream to change the subject whenever the whim strikes him, and frequently bitching about money. Chelsea on the Rocks is very lively, somewhat thrown together in that loose yet aggressively visceral Ferrara style. Less impressive are the historical recreations of Sid and Nancy’s final hours together, which feel like pale, half-baked imitations of the lives bubbling over in the documentary footage. But at least those sequences are fleeting, and the heart of the movie is a warm, gritty testament to an infamous playground for the many beautiful oddballs, past and present, who stayed there. Some of them, including Ferrara, never left.

Buy
DVD
Distributor
Aliquot Films
Runtime
88 min
Rating
R
Year
2009
Director
Abel Ferrara
Screenwriter
Abel Ferrara, David Linter, Christ Zois
Cast
Milos Forman, Gaby Hoffmann, R. Crumb, Lola Schnabel, Stanley Bard, Adam Goldberg, Bijou Phillips, Grace Jones, Ethan Hawke, Dennis Hopper, Abel Ferrara