Chelsea Girls (1966)
Chelsea Girls (1966)
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as Hanoi Hanna
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Critic Reviews for Chelsea Girls
A pointless, excruciatingly dull three-and-a-half hours spent in the company of Andy Warhol's friends.
The results are often spellbinding; the juxtaposition of two film images at once gives the spectator an unusual amount of freedom in what to concentrate on and what to make of these variously whacked-out performers.
Watching and waiting brought some amazing performances before Warhol's camera: Emerson's stoned monologue, Ondine's violent, sourly comic rant on being pope.
Audience Reviews for Chelsea Girls
I was curious about "Chelsea Girls" for decades before I finally saw it. The movie was a substantial letdown, sorry to say. Yes, this experimental, split-screen film is composed of 12 reels averaging around 32 minutes apiece, where two reels are shown side by side. Except for a 27-minute stretch near the beginning, the left half is entirely silent. Furthermore, there is a 23-minute patch in the middle where BOTH halves are silent.
The action basically amounts to Warhol's eccentric followers indulging themselves in dingy, claustrophobic rooms. Whether these are all rooms at the Hotel Chelsea seems to be a matter of dispute. Sometimes the actors monologue into the camera, and sometimes they speak with another person or two. Sometimes the spaces are well-lit, and sometimes they are dim with stark lights focused on the faces. Portions are scripted (one segment with character actress Mary Woronov is especially play-like), but most of it seems improvised (if stilted and self-conscious). Says vacuous bisexual Eric Emerson, amidst extended thoughts on the allure of human sweat: "I usually talk to myself, but I don't really have anything to say. So I won't say anything. I'll just sit and groove on myself." Indeed. Much of this film consists of people "grooving" on themselves.
There are no opening or closing credits. Poor sound frequently prevents lines from being understood. There is a flash of male genitalia, but no female nudity. Syringes are used a few times. People in bed are playfully groped, but there is less profanity than one might expect. Relatively speaking, the film is most entertaining when the actors turn salty and abusive, like when cantankerous Brigid Berlin makes drug deals over the phone, Woronov torments two weaker women or the one-named Ondine (depicting himself as "Pope") viciously berates a woman who calls him a phony. The latter segment is the only place where music is heard -- a person or group (the Velvet Underground?) adds a live, ethereal feedback drone in the background.
The most watchable section may be the closing "Nico Crying" (one of four reels in color), where the beautiful chanteuse looks melancholy while someone aims psychedelic projections at her face. (If you can't imagine this, check the band photos on the back of the "Velvet Underground & Nico" LP. Very similar.) Nico fans will also enjoy the opening reel, in which she lounges around a kitchen with Emerson and her young son while meticulously trimming her blond bangs.
If you sit through all 195 minutes, Ondine will reward you by revealing his all-time favorite movie. If I spoil the surprise and tell you it's "Bride of Frankenstein," perhaps this will save some of you the labor of seeing the film.
I will append the reels' titles in order because, as far as I can tell, the ONLY other place on the Web that does this is a Danish-language PDF file. "L" and "R" indicate whether the reel is shown on the left or right. In the film, the titles are printed in a white typewriter font on a black background. Small case only.
nico in kitchen (R)
father ondine and ingrid (L)
brigid holds court (R)
boys in bed (L)
hanoi hannah (R)
hanoi hannah and guests (L)
mario sings two songs (R)
marie mencken (L)*
eric says all (R)*
color lights on cast (L)*
pope ondine (R)
nico crying (L)*
*shot in color
It must be said upfront: as a conventional "movie", this is terrible. The split-screen is a gimmick, the camerawork is annoying, scenes go on way too long and there's huge sections without sound (at least on the DVD). This is not entertainment, there's no message, and there's probably not much thought put into it. Still, a thought-provoking work that gives you something to chew on... even if it is essentially just a bunch of junkies/freaks/actors/artists fucking around with a camera.
If you can sit through the whole thing, you'll see some of the best, if not the best, work Warhol has ever done. Its brilliantly original style has been imitated countless times, but never with a more instantly powerful impression.
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