Far from a typical, straightforward documentary, “Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel” is a visually poetic (and frustratingly slow) modern art piece about the property’s current residents and ghosts of long ago. The audience for a film like this is very small, and I would only recommend it to those who are seeking a different experience rather than an educational film about the storied hotel.
The Chelsea Hotel is legendary. It stands as an icon of 1960s counterculture and a decades-old vibrant art world in New York City. During its lifetime, the property was home to countless famous writers, painters, musicians, and creators, many outspoken and determined to leave their mark on the world.
So many famous names have been tied to the Chelsea, including Janis Joplin, Stanley Kubrick, Dylan Thomas, Willem de Kooning, Jimi Hendrix, Chet Baker, Jack Keroauc, William S. Burroughs, Bob Dylan, Robert Crumb, Arthur C. Clarke, Jim Morrison, Diego Rivera, and of course two of the hotel’s most infamous residents: Sid Vicious and Andy Warhol.
Currently, the hotel is home to dozens of long-term residents who have lived through many new renovations. Co-writers and co-directors Amélie van Elmbt and Maya Duverdier turn their lens to interviewing these tenants, and many of them have a love / hate relationship with the Chelsea.
The style of the film is one that could be described as “wandering bohemian,” which fits the subject matter but isn’t exactly thrilling to watch. The craftsmanship of the documentary is excellent, but the lack of interesting tidbits about the hotel cause it to feel monotonous. The film has its moments, especially when the more colorful occupants in the building are able to openly express their feelings on camera.
Overall, “Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel” is tedious and offers very little insight into the historic icon.