Dreaming Walls review – Chelsea Hotel’s window on last days of bohemia
Engaging study of artists and radicals hanging on at the legendary New York building in the face of hungry developers is charming but vague
New York’s Chelsea Hotel (strictly, the Hotel Chelsea) is the almost mythic building renowned for the radical bohemianism and life-on-the-edge danger of its famous residents, who have included Dylan Thomas, Patti Smith, Sid Vicious, Bob Dylan, Madonna and Iggy Pop. But unlike CBGBs or checker cabs, the Chelsea is a New York institution that does in fact still exist, and is the subject of this interesting, if meanderingly vague documentary from Maya Duverdier and Amélie van Elmbt.
It is all about the now ageing artists and radicals still living there, such as dancer and choreographer Merle Lister, who once staged performances in the Chelsea’s beautiful stairwell with its wrought-iron balustrades. They are the ageing holdout generation with legally protected tenancy – and they resent the forces of gentrification for trying to evict them and ruin the Chelsea’s artistic spirit. A property developer bought it in 2011 and has been striving for an upgrade. But this is more of an apartment building than a hotel, so the overhaul is no simple matter.