Release Date: Oct. 2 (limited)
Director: Abel Ferrara
Writers: Abel Ferrara, David Linter, and Christ Zois
Cinematographers: David Hausen and Ken Kelsch
Studio/Run Time: Aliquot Films, 88 mins.
In 2007, the longtime manager of New
York’s Chelsea Hotel, Stanley Bard, was forced from his position in
an attempt at turning the sometime-bohemian paradise into a corporate
edifice earning money from its historic status. It’s an interesting
and ongoing story, one that director Abel Ferrara has been capturing
on film as it’s been happening by speaking with many of the hotel’s
current and past inhabitants about the building’s past and future
and how much it’s affected them personally. Too bad that’s
only a small portion of the ramshackle Chelsea on the Rocks,
which only peripherally explores the current developments and as a result
topples under the weight of its unfocused ambition.
Some of what Ferrara attempts with
his documentary in both content and form almost works. Combining
interviews, first-person exploration, found footage, recreation and
any other technique available to him, the documentary comes together
as a collage of ideas that fails to make up a unified whole. This
allows Chelsea on the Rocks to drift with an almost stream-of-consciousness
level of association, skipping between concepts with a level of whimsy
that feels representative of the anarchic subject matter. In steadier
hands, this is probably something that could be pulled off.
such as Janis Joplin breaking into “No More Cane on the Brazos,”
is frequently surrounded by the worst, like Shanyn Leigh’s overacting
while playing Joplin in a recreation. That no one in Chelsea
is identified only adds to the mess, unless you’re extremely good
at recognizing painters’ faces. As the film progresses, ideas
jump in and out without ever being truly expanded on while aspects given
great significance early on, such as Sid and Nancy’s tenure in the
building, stop for no rhyme or reason.
In Chelsea’s 88 minutes there’s
probably 44 minutes of pretty interesting coverage, especially when
Ferrara makes his authorial presence in the film really felt by intruding
into the interviews and footage. But the other 44 minutes more
than balance this out and end up detracting from other portions through
sheer confusion. In need of a re-edit like few other films,
Chelsea on the Rocks isn’t so much bad as it is disappointing.