Jan. 20, 2023 – In the 1960s especially, the Chelsea Hotel served as a symbol for counterculture, forming the literal background of Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey’s Chelsea Girls. After a brief romance with Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen wrote his second song about the building, Chelsea Hotel #2, which launched with the immortal line: “I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel.” For her 1992 book Sex, Madonna staged a photo shoot in – where else? – room 822. Conversely, the celebrity hotspot developed a darker reputation: Dylan Thomas died in his bedroom, having boasted that day he’d downed 18 whiskeys; Nancy Spungen, then 20, was discovered on a bathroom floor with a knife plunged through her body, allegedly at the hands of Sid Vicious. An eerie new documentary about the building, Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel, is about none of those people. Although the establishment closed in 2011 for renovation, a handful of residents remained in their dusty, crumbling rooms, creating art for an audience of practically no one – until two Belgian directors, Amélie van Elmbt and Maya Duverdier, decided to shoot them with a camera. Eschewing a typical talking-heads format and resisting YouTube-able archive footage (Mariah Carey did a music video there), the fittingly poetic, drifting film spies on the day-to-day activities of ageing, former bohemians with nowhere else to go, and the construction workers in the corridors who speculate that ghosts haunt the vicinity.


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