Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Abel Ferrara's CHELSEA ON THE ROCKS opens in... Chelsea!

CHELSEA ON THE ROCKS? Well, why not. According to one resident of the fabled New York hotel for artists and artistes, the place is situated atop a vortex. Maybe. TrustMovies is more inclined to think that, rather than occupy-
ing a spot above some otherworldly psychic whirlpool, the hotel simply attracts, as it has since practically its inception, the kind of creative but undisci-plined tenant whose

life is already approaching shambles. With this kind of a guest list, who needs outside provocation?

For anyone who has followed the trials and tribulations of the storied place (often covered by The New York Observer's peach-colored gossip sheet) as it swings back and forth between managers and management companies, this will be old news. But when film director Abel Ferrara (shown at right) brings his roving camera and weirdly probing mind into the mix, you can expect some bizarre fun as you learn how precarious a place it has become. Or maybe always was -- what with all the fires, floods, suicides, murders and more.

According to Ferrara's energetic but sloppy mishmash of interviews (nobody is identified on screen -- that's Ethan Hawke, above -- though once in awhile the name of a speaker is mentioned in passing) and some truly silly re-enactments (Sid and Nancy! Janis! ghosts!), the hotel does seem to attract those who glom onto seedy glamor, while dripping violence and psychosis. Or at least these attributes attract the filmmaker, who spends way too much time re-enacting that Sid & Nancy story, cheesily and to little effect (though Bijou Phillips, the blond just below, does get to sing -- and well, as usual).

Better when it simply sticks to the interviews and reminiscences, the movie pays particular homage to Stanley Bard, who for years ran the place and still appears to be in the picture, if on the sidelines. Some of the most charming moments belong to film director Milos Forman (below, right), who take us on a little tour with Stanley (below, left) and tells a funny, shocking story about a smoke fire he once witnessed and how it -- and the tenant -- were extinguished. Another resident tells of an artist who would retrieve his mail from his hotel mailbox in one continuous sweep, depositing it directly into the trash: "These people were completely unencum-
bered by the kinds of things the rest of us worry about." Amen.

The film's strongest moments come from a Viet Nam veteran who talks at length about killing and karma. His words bring to mind our shameful past, as well the present. I've never heard anything quite like this short section; it's a scene such as this that, as usual, makes a Ferrara movie -- for all its sloppiness -- unmissable.

(Yes, that's Grace Jones at left, appearing in another of those dizzy re-enactments. But it's always fun to see Grace.)

Chelsea on the Rocks open Friday, October 2, exclusively at the NYC's Clearview Chelsea, mere footsteps away from its storied subject.

All photos are from the film itself, except that of Mr. Ferrara, by George Pimentel, © WireImage.com

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