The first documentary from King of New York director Abel Ferrara takes the Chelsea Hotel, that Manhattan landmark (and not in a T+L 500 way), as a subject. Since 1905, the place has been a haven for artists (Andy Warhol, R. Crumb), writers (Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams), and musicians (Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan), not to mention a fair share of drug addicts and prostitutes.
But as Bob would say, the times, they are a-changin’—two years ago, new management ousted owner Stanley Bard and several long-term residents in effort to clean up and bring in a different type of clientele, or, as Ferrara puts it in the movie, to turn the hotel “into a more expensive version of itself.”
In Chelsea on the Rocks, he steps in to capture the Chelsea’s old soul, weaving dramatic re-enactments (see Sid and Nancy fight; see Sid find Nancy on the bathroom floor, stabbed to death) in between interviews with past and present residents, like Ethan Hawke and Dennis Hopper.
Warning: the film is anything but a sober study (you might even say it has an intoxicating effect), and you probably wouldn’t want to actually stay at the Chelsea after watching it (during a post-screening discussion, Ferrara, who stayed there while shooting the movie, said that he “couldn’t get out fast enough”).
But considering the current trend of turning run-down hotels into boho-chic boutique properties (a la the Bowery or the Jane, which, interestingly, hosted said screening), Chelsea on the Rocks—playing now in NYC and rolling out nationally throughout the fall—might be your best shot at experiencing one of the last hangovers of Old New York.
Christine Ajudua is an editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure.