Chelsea Walls Reviews
Bud drinks. He also writes, occasionally, and in one scene the words of his narration fall into the film like rain. The words are strong and calculated. This old writer has seen a lot and his words have become all he knows how to love. When Bud?s publisher shows up at the end of the film to collect his novel, he finds it strewn around his apartment like removed clothing. Bud is on the verge of tears. He has pulled another great love from his booze-soaked heart and let it out of his life.
The Chelsea represents the long-standing artistic Mecca of New York City. It has served as a temporary home to a laundry list of well-known musicians, writers and artists of all disciplines. Andy Warhol shot a series of films there in the 1960s. Mark Twain stayed there, and it?s where Nancy Spungeon was found dead. The many characters of Chelsea Walls have the fact that they are artists in common. Beyond this, they are lonely, unsure of the direction their lives are taking, uncertain as to whether or not the art they are producing is any good and finding the Chelsea a despicable place to live. They often pay more attention to their own destitution than to the romanticized lifestyle they are living (and no wonder ? rates at the Chelsea currently start at $109 US a night).
We are not allowed too deeply into these characters? lives. One seems to haunt the elevators and abandoned rooms of the hotel with poetry book in hand, preaching at no one. Another dances by with no context given. The movie is full of suggestions about how these characters think and feel, but first-time director Ethan Hawke only gives us bits and pieces at a time. Like an Impressionist painting, examining the individual elements up close will not provide the picture as a whole. Viewed from a step back, the film is a complete story of the muse.
It is the muse that draws these artists to the Chelsea. Perhaps it is also the undeniable Cool Factor of sleeping in the same building where Keruoac wrote ?On the Road,? and perhaps there is no difference in the way these characters behave from the artist who believes that only the Chelsea could produce the greatness needed within them to create.
Grace (Uma Thurman) is a waitress at the hotel, apparently killing time writing while her boyfriend is off becoming a movie star. Frank (Vincent D?Onofrio) is a painter and can?t tell Grace how much he loves her. Ross (Steve Zahn) and Terry (Robert Sean Leonard) are musicians who arrive at the hotel from Minnesota and record songs in the bathroom. While Ross is intent on living the experience to the fullest, Terry broods that his constant attention towards music has denied him a love life. He is Bud before the fifty years of self-abuse. There is also a jazz singer played by Jimmy Scott, who has what seem like centuries of the wear and tear of life etched into his face.
Ethan Hawke shows a courageous tendency to capture unconventionally the need of artists to answer to the muse in their lives. For the most part, these are complicated, modest people with gently inferred pasts who seem more like pure products of a poor artistic culture than clichés. Traded in for narrative are poetic expressions of emotion, including a real showstopper delivered by Rosario Dawson and Mark Webber. He appears at her room after what we assume is a long absence. They are lovers. A man on crutches shows up, seemingly a part of a former life that could drive a wedge between them. He is told to leave. The lovers spend time together writing. She tenderly shaves his face. They have a conversation on the telephone discussing a fistfight. Ultimately, he leaves with the crippled man and his associates in a car, refusing money from the woman he loves. All impressions, but what we remember most is the beauty of their language.
The film is based on a play by Nicole Burdette, who also wrote the screenplay. I have no idea how the staging of these stories would take place live. Film affords the opportunity to check in on each room, sometimes with abrupt intercuts, and lend each one a different tone or hue, always keeping them in the field of comparison. The achievement of this is a mood that can perhaps only be fully attuned to at 3 o?clock in the morning after a long night of drinking and worrying about the one you love not loving you back. While not always cogent, the impression is successful. Any artist should feel this film in their blood.
I?m slowly growing a new respect for Jeff Tweedy?s music. I took in ?I Am Trying to Break Your Heart? last weekend, a documentary on the making of Wilco?s ?Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,? and found myself fascinated by it. Here, Tweedy provides an ongoing, atmospheric score that resonates. At the film?s center, Ross and Terry perform a song written by Tweedy entitled ?The Lonely 1? and Hawke leaves it in the film complete with mistakes. To have perfected it would have been to miss the point entirely. The root of an artist?s identity comes out in the art, truthful and without pretense. The rest is getting there.
This is a film of moments. It gives them away and asks for a thought or two before moving on to the next. I?ll offer one more: Bud talks to one of his women on the phone. It is late. Too tired to type but just awake enough to drink, he needs the conversation. As Jimmy Scott croons in the Chelsea bar about jealousy, Bud details an experience of running into a woman with her little girl on the elevator:
?The little girl had these huge brown eyes and curls all over her head. She beamed at me and then hugged my leg. I just look at her and smiled. Grinned, really. No teeth. Teeth scare kids, I think. It was so strange. As I got out, her mother said, ?She?s going to fall in love with men who look like you and not know why, but I will.? And then the elevator door closed. It was oddly beautiful. I?ve had a couple of drinks, so it?s all dreamy, but I couldn?t help wondering about you as a little girl in an elevator with your mother. I wonder if you ever saw a man like me.?
2 out of 10