Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel
Bettina Grossman, Rose Cory, Merle Lister
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… a bit ramshackle, like the Chelsea itself.
There was probably never a place in the Western world more famous – and occasionally infamous – for its extraordinary aggregation of creative and bohemian guests and long-term residents than New York’s Chelsea Hotel.
Built in the 1880s, it reached its apogee in the 1960s, when the denizens included a rollcall of the hip: Dylan, Warhol superstars, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Nico and lots more… Those glory days are long gone, and now – after many years of construction – the Chelsea is about to reopen as a luxury hotel.
While all this was going on around them, an interesting but lesser-known assortment of ageing artists and other rugged individualists kept living there, allegedly being treated like anachronisms and nuisances. They are the subject of this documentary.
There’s Bettina Grossman, a very old photographer and real character (“It [photography] is better than a man, I can tell you”)… Rose Cory, performer and Rimbaud-inspired Street Artist… Dancer Merle Lister… We also hear from some of the long departed, most affectingly via a recording of Dylan Thomas declaiming “Do not go gentle into that good night” as the camera pans across the rooftop.
Dreaming Walls is a bit ramshackle, like the Chelsea itself. You want it to be fascinating and it does have its odd moments, but some of those are flashbacks or ‘projections’ of old images onto the titular walls. The unstructured fly-on-the-wall approach, and the apparent use of hand-held cameras, definitely has its limits. Still, the best parts comprise an effective aural/visual montage. It’s mildly diverting, and a poignant sign of these soulless times.