Chelsea on the Rocks
Dir. Abel Ferrara. 2008. R. 88mins. Documentary.
Abel Ferrara is not a natural documentarian. He will interrupt his subjects
with gruff asides or profane exclamations. His shot choices are haphazard
and arhythmic, always cutting against any recognizable beat. Yet Ferrara¹s
unconventional methods only manage to serve Chelsea on the Rocks, his loving
portrait of Manhattan¹s boho landmark, the Chelsea Hotel.
This downtown edifice has housed all number of tenants, from Tennessee
Williams to Patti Smith, from Ferrara himself to Thomas Wolfe. Each of these
people is represented here in some way, if only fleetingly. The director
even reserves some docudrama interludes‹performed as if they were endlessly
looping improvisatory slams‹for former lodgers Janis Joplin and Sid Vicious.
Yet Ferrara¹s bigger goal is to capture the vanishing essence of the
Chelsea, especially in light of the forced departure of its venerable
proprietor, Stanley Bard. The new owners have evicted a good number of
longtime residents to attract a more upscale crowd, and the filmmaker
doesn¹t bemoan these developments. But he does recognize the ease with which
our memories of specific cultural movements can fade, to be replaced only by
ghostly whispers and memorializing plaques.
It makes sense that, within his own act of remembrance, Ferrara would
include a hotel tenant’s home-movie footage of the September 11 attacks. The
underlying message, in both cases, is the same: Never forget. (Opens Fri;
Source: TimeOut NY