Thursday, November 5, 2009

Film Review: CHELSEA ON THE ROCKS (2009, Abel Ferrara)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Abel Ferrara, Ethan Hawke, Milos Forman, Grace Jones, Dennis Hopper, Giancarlo Esposito, Adam Goldberg, Bijou Philips, Stanley Bard, Shanyn Leigh.
Tag-line: None I could find.
Best one-liner: "Couldn't handle fame?! Try handling non-fame!"

Generally speaking, there are two types of tour guides: a stodgy, self-important numbnuts who'll tell you that "in 1879, so and so did blah blah blah," or an unhinged borderline madman who'll tell you who "combined uppers with downers and flung a junkie down these stairs, which is why there's a dent in the wall there, and by the way, don't step on that goddamned dog, he'll bite ya in the ass."

Abel Ferrara firmly falls in the latter category, and you should be able to tell by now if his stream-of-fuckin'-consciousness style will appeal to you.

Abel in action.

With his focus firmly on the ordinary denizens of the Chelsea (though celebs certainly get their due), Abel is far more interested in the organic nature of the space than in name-dropping, which he eschews almost entirely.

We hear tales of idealistic hippies with guitars turning into hookers within two weeks, drug-addled youth listening to the same song on loop for four days straight (until somebody finally noticed 'Heyyy, this song is reallly long'), a man's horrifying account of his own brain hemorrhage, Frankie the dealer in #921, string theory, 9/11, suicides, fires, and what-have-you.

Milos Forman tells an awesome fucking story while Stanley Bard looks on.

We hear of a world where artists could pay the rent with paintings, deadbeats could go years without paying at all, and everything was handled on a case-by-case, humanizing basis. Consequently, the film becomes a rumination on an ever-changing New York that's moving from individualistic sincerity to corporate sterility. Gone are the days where artists can live like Poe or Baudrillard, so unencumbered by traditional concerns (like rent, mail, or credit ratings) that they could allow their genius to thrive precisely in the moment. And Abel's rambling genius exists in that moment, even during ill-conceived detours like bizarre reenactments that involve Grace Jones in a bad wig

Ms. Grace Jones.

or Adam Goldberg as a hardass dealer. (In fact, one of my favorite moments is an edit which implies that one resident's tale of a ghostly encounter was actually a run-in with the spirit of Sid Vicious.)

Regardless, the film's as eccentric, ominous, comforting, and labyrinthine as the Chelsea itself, and that is a true achievement.

-Sean Gill

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