‘Dreaming Walls’ verifies the appeal and traditions of the famous Chelsea hotel

FILM CRITIC

“DREAM WALL: INSIDE THE CHELSEA HOTEL”

Unclassified. On VOD.

Class B+

An often poetic variation on a theme from the phrase “If these walls could talk,” executive producer Martin Scorsese’s “Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel” is an examination of the history of a New York cultural institution, the Chelsea Hotel at 222 West 23rd St. Designated a New York City landmark in 1966 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, the Chelsea Hotel has long been known as a bohemian hangout, offering affordable, comfortable shelter and elegant to subversive literary figures such as William Burroughs, Alan Ginsberg, Quentin Crisp and Dylan Thomas, whose signature poem “Don’t go easy on that good night” we hear recited in the film with a slightly novel twist.

Notable film and theater personalities who have stayed at the Chelsea Hotel have included Stanley Kubrick, Shirley Clarke, Dennis Hopper, Elaine Stritch, Ethan Hawke and Edie Sedgwick. Andy Warhol filmed “Chelsea Girls” at the Chelsea Hotel. Former resident musicians include Chet Baker, Tom Waits, Jim Morrison, Edith Piaf, Marianne Faithful and Patti Smith, who appears in the film in archive footage from when poet-musician Smith lived at the hotel with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

Artists Larry Rivers, Christo, Julian Schnabel, Nikki de Saint Phalle, Jasper Johns and Robert Crumb have all walked the halls of the Chelsea, decorated its walls and climbed its 12-story sculptural grand staircase. The hotel is also notable for the wrought iron balconies decorated with flowers on its red brick facade.

An elderly resident of the Chelsea Hotel stands on her balcony in “Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel”. (Photos by Magnolia)

Belgian directors Maya Duverdier and Amelie van Elmbt begin with expressionistic shots of faces of what you might call the former residents of the Chelsea Hotel projected onto those old bricks: Leonard Cohen and Janis Joplin, who had an affair at the Chelsea, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Marilyn Monroe, who may have met fellow countryman Arthur Miller at the hotel, James Dean and Salvador Dali. The hotel we see in the film is buried under dusty scaffolding and plastic sheeting and is undergoing massive renovations by new owners. Longtime residents, many of them elderly, who did not agree to leave the settlements and are protected by New York City law, rub shoulders with construction workers. Some residents live in small, cluttered spaces. Others retain substantial excavations with high ceilings and paneled walls. Some doors have signs saying “Tenant Occupied” to keep workers away. A worker tells a former resident he smells ghosts in the hotel, and we’re reminded that Nancy Spungen, girlfriend of Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious, was stabbed to death by him at the Chelsea Hotel in 1978.

Many of the remaining residents are artists. One is choreographer and dancer Merle Lister, who glides with a walker, working out and stretching from the hotel’s sculptural balustrade. Celebrated in song, literature and film, the Chelsea Hotel has hosted many of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Its ghosts are our muses.


“Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel” contains harsh language.

Comments are closed.