New York’s most iconic hotel, home to legends of the film and music world, is the subject of this fascinating documentary portrait.
Shortly after it was built in the 1880s, the Chelsea Hotel became home to Mark Twain. In the mid-20th century it hosted literary luminaries. Then, a decade later, there were film stars, pop, rock and punk stars. And, of course, Andy Warhol, whose 210-minute 1966 experimental film Chelsea Girls immortalised the Manhattan building. Dylan Thomas fell fatally ill there. Arthur Miller moved there after splitting from Marilyn Monroe. And Nancy Spungen, girlfriend of Sid Vicious, died there. These stories exist as ghosts in Amelié van Elmbt and Maya Duverdier’s film, which documents the final three years of a massive, decade-long renovation project designed to return the building to its former glory. Rather than follow a structured narrative, the film moves freely through the building, listening in on the lives of its residents. It also travels back to the past, seeing how the management of the building, along with some of its famous residents, changed over the years.
Part of the film’s charm lies in its unwillingness to venture out of the hotel. Within its walls lies a frequently charming, occasionally obstreperous and often eccentric community who relish its past and are unsettled by what its future may hold.