Chelsea Walls Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ February 12, 2008
Ethan Hawke's passionate directorial debut paints a mosaic of love, dreams, regrets and plenty of other things that we all experience as people. Hawke's unorthodox approach not only to storytelling, but also to film as a narrative medium, is refreshing and suitably out of the box. Aiding the effectiveness of this unique picture's beauty is a highly talented and convincing cast of actors. This is not a film that everyone will enjoy, but it's something I loved watching and it definitely appealed to me on a personal level.
Super Reviewer
½ April 21, 2007
I want to contradict myself by accident, and for you to know what I mean... This film, which really isn't a movie as such, more a feeling of mood with snatches of conversation, is definitely going to be something of an acquired taste. Directed by Ethan Hawke, the film shifts focus between the various occupants of the Chelsea Hotel in New York (which in the past has been inhabited by various famous poets, authors and artists, from Tennessee Williams to Bob Dylan). There's very little in the way of narrative or story, we just catch glimpses of peoples feelings, thoughts, hopes and doubts. There isn't a sudden understanding at the end of the film, and the various peoples lives don't suddenly connect or clash. The way it's filmed stops everything from feeling pretentious, or too much like a vanity project (which it undoubtedly is). In fact the way it's filmed (on digital video) - the dreamy, 'hypnoticness' of it - was what sucked me in and made me feel a part of it. The photography from Tom Richmond is beautiful in places. Ethan Hawke has managed to assemble a sprawling cast, some of whom are very talented indeed, presumably all working for scale. Among them are Vincent D'Onofrio, Rosario Dawson, Steve Zahn and Uma Thurman, but the two best performances come from Robert Sean Leonard and Kris Kristofferson. I watched this late at night when I was slightly sleepy, which is probably the best way to see this film. Cautiously recommended.
½ April 13, 2012
Very hard to watch. Certainly not pleasant, too disjointed. It was so irritating I left it 45" into it. I don't care about these characters.
½ January 22, 2011
Watched it and loved it for it's New York sensibility, the great shots of the Chelsea Hotel and a big heartthrob of mine, Vincent D'Onofrio. Great cast, self-indulgent, whiny characters.
½ August 19, 2009
Natasha Richardson?s face is the first we see in Chelsea Walls. She is standing in the apartment of Bud, an alcoholic writer played by Kris Kristofferson, who in this movie looks as though he could live forever and age to ridiculous extremes on the outside. He doesn?t want her to go. She goes. In her second and final scene in the film, she speaks to a psychiatrist about her love for him: ?It?s very painful to fall in love with someone in the confines of four walls, where you share everything; to be silent while they work for days sometimes; to be taken into it, into them, their body and spirit; to be worshipped and magnified, immortalized; and then to see that, to them ? to Bud ? it?s work.?

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.?
November 21, 2006
What a mess... pathetic excuse for a film is a jumbled pretentious, boring, dull mess.. Ethan Hawke wastes his own and the talent of many others... If you liked Full Frontal you'll probably like this film



2 out of 10
October 22, 2005
this movie is pure genious, you have to be in the mood to watch it but once you get it started theres no better movie. the writing is exceent and ethan hawke's directorial debut has made me longing for his next film. the original score by Jeff Tweedy and Glen Kotch is brilliant and mezmorizing. it goes perfectly with the movie. i give this movie 10 out of 10 with out a doubt :fresh:
February 4, 2004
This movie blew me away, especially with such low critical reception. A beautiful flick, Hawke makes wonderful choices for a first-time director. Jeff Tweedy's score weaves itself throughout the visual poetry depicted in the halls of the Chelsea Hotel as the film explores connections, and the lack thereof, between the inhabitants. The cinematogrophy is excellent and the acting is superb throughout the piece, holding together the nonlinear narrative. In my opinion, Chelsea Walls serves as an all-around wonderful flick.
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