Dylan Thomas, Janis Joplin, Stanley Kubrick and Jane Fonda are just a few of the celebrities who have graced the halls of New York’s historic Chelsea Hotel, one of the city’s most iconic buildings, but in Dreaming Walls: At the Chelsea Hoteltake filmmakers Amélie van Elmbt and Maya Duverdier (with executive producer Martin Scorsese) on the property’s controversial renovation.
When the Chelsea, a popular artist hangout, handed over to new owners in 2011, its (mostly elderly) residents began the journey of nearly a decade of chaos to transform the property into a luxury hotel, stripping the building largely of its originality form.
“There are people here who are really remnants of a different time in New York, when Manhattan was a bohemian and avant-garde hub of activity,” says artist and resident Rose Cory in the documentary. “When the art world was really alive and vibrant and juicy and art was being made here in Manhattan, I think that time is over now.”
“It’s a bit like a big old tree that’s been felled, but the roots are deep and life still comes out of it. So we don’t know exactly where we’re going yet. It looks like they’re going to take us all out over time.”
The choreographer Merle Lister roams the halls with a walker and gets updates from the construction workers, while others just want the renovation to be over. In fact, it’s Lister who originally invited the filmmakers into her room during the renovation project.
Steve Willis, a resident who has lived at the Chelsea since 1994 and brought Mariah Carey onto the property, calls it a “rape” of the building.
While a spooky look at the history of Chelsea, with flashes of what happened behind those walls, and with whom, Dreaming Walls: At the Chelsea Hotel is a bit too vague to put yourself in.
Unlike documentaries like Always at the Carlyleanother landmark full of celebrities, Dreaming Walls: At the Chelsea Hotel is less informative and more artistic. The focus is more on the present than spending much time delving into the past or how the demographics of residents have changed over the years.
Some clips of former manager Stanley Bard give you a glimpse into the property’s past life, but the documentary doesn’t go into deep detail, like the circumstances under which he was forced out of his position in 2007. Bard died in 2017 at the age of 82.
It is certainly a documentary for a time when tensions around rent control and housing affordability are high, particularly in the larger cities around the world.
Dreaming Walls: At the Chelsea Hotel has enough to please anyone interested in the legendary tales of historic iconic landmarks, not unlike the Chateau Marmont in California, but for the Chelsea its future was far bleaker and a cautionary tale for anyone remotely interested is interested in receiving parts from us by at .
Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel opens July 8 in Toronto (Hot Docs Cinema) and Saskatoon (Broadway). The film will be shown in other cities throughout the summer.