By Tenley Woodman
October 16, 2009
A bunch of talking heads wax nostalgic on the heyday of New York's
fabled Chelsea Hotel in Abel Ferrara's documentary "Chelsea on the Rocks."
The Chelsea has been home to some of the 20th century's most
interesting and dysfunctional artists. It is where Welsh poet Dylan
Thomas drank himself to death, and punk rock icon Sid Vicious'
girlfriend Nancy Spungen was killed.
It was also home to roving intellectuals such as playwright Arthur
Miller, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski.
The hotel's history is both grim and amusing. It is a treasure trove
of humor and pathos, yet Ferrara ("The Funeral"), a native New
Yorker, fails to capture any of it in this incoherent roundup.
"Chelsea on the Rocks" follows the changing of the guard two years
ago. Longtime landlord Stanley Bard had bowed out and a management
company took over, threatening to cramp the eccentric hotel's style.
Bard's father, David, was one of three men who bought the Chelsea in
the 1940s. When Stanley took over, he created a family atmosphere,
albeit a very dysfunctional one, as the unidentified interviewees
reveal. If you didn't have the rent in time, no worries. Stanley
would let you pay when you could. Need a dope fix? There was at least
one dealer on every floor.
Tales of orgies, mental breakdowns, suicide attempts and even a brain
hemmorhage round out the reminiscences.
Most of the Chelsea's famous guests are dead, and Ferrara seeks an
intimate slice of life from the common folk within its walls. Because
he does not properly identify them, it further jumbles an already
Making matters worse, Ferrara re-creates some of the hotel's famous
moments, most regrettably Spungen's death. Bijou Phillips ("Choke")
plays the ill-fated addict, and Adam Goldberg ("The Unusuals") is a
Rated: R. At Kendall Square Cinema.
("Chelsea on the Rocks" contains adult language, nudity and drug use.)