Thursday, October 08, 2009

Reservations Required

It really is a shame that the walls inside the Chelsea Hotel can't talk, because what they'd say would undoubtedly be more interesting than most of what's included in "Chelsea on the Rocks," director Abel Ferrara's documentary about the infamous bohemian-friendly hotel. Never certain of what it wants to be, the film jumps back and forth between standard interviews (mostly examining the recent unpopular change in management) to a series of REALLY embarrassing "flashback recreations" of notorious events from over the years (Bijou Phillips as the bleeding-to-death Nancy Spungeon and the director's girlfriend as Janis Joplin, need I say more? Oh, wait. I will: Grace Jones is in it, but not because she was part of the scene back in the day. She inexplicably plays a nurse in one of the flashbacks!!!!).
   What's most annoying is that the parts of the film that could have been interesting -- interviews with former tenants, employees and artsy types who have hung out there over the years -- are rendered nearly useless by the director's refusal to identify the subjects on screen. (I first noticed this horrible trend in Julian Temple's Joe Strummer documentary, "The Future Is Unwritten.") Not knowing WHO is saying these things removes all context and therefore all consequence of most of what's being conveyed. (You don't realize how aggravating this is until you're faced with 90 minutes of it in a row.) Even worse are the pointless 9/11 recollections and an endless monologue about the Vietnam War delivered by someone that I don't care if I ever find out who he is. (WHY was that left in the film? Did the guy ever even set foot in the Chelsea Hotel?)
  How someone could manage to make a film this devoid of character about a place as fascinating as this (no Edie Sedgwick, no Dylan Thomas, no Lance Loud!) is quite a feat. What's ironic is that one of the few amusing moment in the film actually comes from Ferrara himself, when he is heard interviewing someone (of course, I can't say who) and she starts whining about the pressures of fame, to which he replies: "How could you not handle fame? Try handling not-fame!" If only Ferrara's films were as good as his one-liners.


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