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LAS VEGAS — Who better than the director of such edgy fare as “Bad Lieutenant” and “King of New York” to chronicle the life and times of Manhattan’s legendary Chelsea Hotel? In the appropriately free-form “Chelsea on the Rocks,” Abel Ferrara finds the 250-room historical landmark, which over the years, has served as a temporary home to everyone from Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller to Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol and Joni Mitchell, at a crucial crossroads in its century-old existence.
Receiving its American premiere at CineVegas, the film nails the hotel’s unique flavor through a blend of rare archival footage and fresh interviews with many of its past and current residents (including Dennis Hopper, Ethan Hawke and filmmaker Milos Forman, who shares a particularly macabre anecdote, making it a no-brainer for U.S. distribution.
While the preeminent bohemian hangout has captured the artistic imagination of hundreds who spent time there, Ferrara is equally concerned with its future. Last year, the fatherly 72-year-old Stanley Bard was removed from the establishment his family had managed since 1946 by a new consortium eyeing the property as a Chateau Marmont-type boutique hotel. The makeover is also forcing a number of longtime residents out on the streets. While they may not be as famous as some of the above-mentioned guests, they still have some colorful stories to tell.
As the camera travels from room to room, it soon becomes apparent that the Chelsea is equally famous for those who died there, notably poet Dylan Thomas (of alcohol poisoning) and Sid Vicious’ girlfriend Nancy Spungen, who was found fatally stabbed.
It’s with Ferrara’s treatment of the events leading to the latter that the otherwise transporting documentary falters, with the decision to stage the first of several dramatic recreations (here Bijou Philips plays Spungen). With all the real-life intrigue that went on behind the cultural icon’s beckoning doors, the last thing the Chelsea Hotel needed was a glaring coat of artifice.
PRODUCTION: Deerjen Films in association with Apollo Film
CAST: Dennis Hopper, Ethan Hawke, Grace Jones, Milos Forman.
DIRECTOR: Abel Ferrara
PRODUCERS: Jen Gatien, David Wasserman
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Kris Haber, Ovidio E. Diaz
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Ken Kelsch
MUSIC SUPERVISOR: Hal Willner
EDITOR: Langdon F. Page
Sales Agent: Wild Bunch.
No rating, 85 minutes.
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