Parky At the Pictures (6/10/2023)
[Reviews of Golda; Mind-Set; and Ghosts of the Chelsea Hotel (and Other Rock & Roll Stories)]
In 1982, Swede Ingrid Bergman and Australian Judy Davis played Golda Meir at different stages of her life in Alan Gibson's teleplay, A Woman Named Golda. It proved to be Bergman's performance and she was rewarded posthumously with an Emmy and a Golden Globe, while Davis received an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress. Some of the reviews mentioned that Bergman and Davis were neither Ukrainian-American-Israeli nor Jewish, while most commented on the calibre of the accents and make-up.
Fast forward four decades and the majority of the notices for Guy Nattiv's Golda have tied themselves in knots in striving to reconcile Helen Mirren's cultural unsuitability for the role and the potency of her performance. Once again, much has been said about hair, make-up, and voice matching. But the notable difference in critical tone from 41 years ago lies in the sceptical reaction to the depiction of both Israel as a bastion of democracy in the Middle East and the Yom Kippur War as being as a turning point in what would become known as the `peace process'. Given these caveats, it's nigh on impossible to judge Golda on its own terms.
Following a brief audiovisual resumé of Israel's history since 1948, a caption informs us that the country is so over-confident after victory in 1967's Six Day War that the events of autumn 1973 came about as a result of this hubris. Appearing before the National Committee of Inquiry under Supreme Court Chief Justice, Shimon Agranat (Henry Goodman), 76 year-old Caretaker Prime Minister, Golda Meir (Helen Mirren), lights a cigarette and thinks back to 5 October.
Arriving at Tel Aviv's Lod Airport with personal assistant, Lou Kaddar (Camille Cottin), Meir had been informed by Mossad agents about imminent war. Heading to Jerusalem to receive secret treatment for lymphoma from Dr Rosenfeld (Jonathan Tafler), she asks to be kept in touch with developments and calls an emergency meeting on being informed that Egyptian forces are on the move.
Woken in the night, Meir summons Defence Minister Moshe Dayan (Rami Heuberger), Head of Military Intelligence Eli Zeira (Dvir Benedek), Air Force commander Benny Peled (Ed Stoppard), and Chief of the General Staff David Elazar (Lior Ashkenazi) to an emergency meeting. Zeira assures her that listening devices are working, but no intelligence has been received to confirm rumours of Egyptian movements. Conscious of the risk of mobilising 120,000 men on the holiest day of the year, she takes the decision to be ready for an attack.
Agranat asks Meir why she didn't call up the reserves, as many lives were lost in repelling Egyptian and Syrian forces from the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. She insists Dayan was confident and that she had wanted to avoid appearing to be bellicose, as we return to the previous year and the sight of flocking birds disappearing into a chimney, as Meir goes to the office roof for a smoke.
Before a cabinet meeting, she checks with stenographer Shir Shapiro (Ellie Piercy), whose son is at the front. However, they are interrupted by the sound of sirens and Meir sends people back to their ministries to implement the plans to teach their enemies a lesson they will never forget. She speaks to US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (Liev Schreiber). But she knows he can only offer her moral support, as Saudi Arabia will cut off oil supplies if the United States provides military assistance. Moreover, she suggests he wants Israel to win without crushing Egypt, so that he has a chance to persuade President Anwar Sadat to drop his alliance with the Soviet Union.
Putting on a stern face, Meir addresses the nation. But Dayan vomits in a helicopter over the Golan Heights at the extent of the Syrian offensive and Meir is so disturbed by his unstable response that she puts Elazar in control and urges him to ignore Dayan's appeals to arm Israel's nuclear weapons.
On the second day of the crisis, Elazar reports that the Syrians have stalled and are not pressing home their advantage. He also reveals that Egypt has crossed the Suez Canal and Meir requests that he rescues the reservists trapped in a fortress, as Shapiro's son is among them. Dayan pleads with her to go on the counter-attack, but she insists she's a politician not a soldier and must leave military decisions to others.
Having informed Kaddar that she won't allow herself to be captured, Meir goes to the war room and listens to voices filled with fear and panic reporting on the counter-offensive. Retiring to bed, she blows a cloud of smoke that hangs over her like an impenetrable fog. However, things begin to clear at a war council meeting the next day. Elazar confirms that the Syrians have shot their bolt and Dayan suggests pushing them back to Damascus to make President Assad put pressure on Sadat. Dayan also believes that the Egyptian divisions could be exposed by encircling them from the south and Meir realises that Sadat has missed the chance to drive home his advantage.
Needing planes to attack Syria, Meir calls Kissinger and offers to pay a personal visit. He is reluctant to commit aid, as Watergate is swirling in Washington. However, when she asks how it would look if Israel was defeated by Soviet weapons, he promises her some Phantoms. By Day Five, President Richard Nixon is stressing US neutrality and his hope that he can use influence in the area to bring about a swift peace.
At a meeting the same day, Major General Ariel Sharon (Ohad Knoller) proposes a plan to burst through Egyptian lines on the West Bank. But Meir has been informed of another Egyptian push planned for two days' time and recognises that this would leave Cairo vulnerable. Sharon feels his scheme offers the best chance to halting the foe, but Meir reckons that Sadat has failed to see that he has won and is so keen to be the first Arab to defeat the Jews that he has taken his eye off the bigger picture.
Consequently, Israel delays until Sadat has made his move. Meir has more treatment and, as she's being bathed, she reassures Kaddar that she's like family. She also regrets that Shapiro's son is missing in action. But the Sinai attack works and Meir watches satellite images of the battlefield, while listening to audio, as he smoke adds to the tension in the air. Elazar proclaims a victory and there's a gentle ripple of applause.
On Day 10, Dayan backs Sharon's plan to cross into Egypt at Chinese Farm and Meir listens as they meet stubborn resistance. She records the 300 fatalities in her notebook and inhales deeply at the sacrifices being made to ensure Israel emerges from the conflict with its fear factor intact. That night, Meir has a nightmare involving ringing phones and battlefield audio. But she composes herself to meet with Elazar about bluffing Sadat into believing that she is about to launch a major offensive.
The discussion is terminated when Meir receives a note that Kissinger is flying to Israel to broker a ceasefire. They meet at her office and she feeds him borscht before listening to his reasoning for a deal. She demands the return of all prisoners and reminds him that Israel is prepared to fight alone if needs be. However, when he gives her an 18-hour deadline, she agrees to a cessation in principle, if she can secure her supply lines and appear to the outside world to have the upper hand.
Having noticed the number of corpses increasing in the basement morgue when she is smuggled into the hospital for treatment, Meir has to overcome considerable pain in order to fly to the combat zone to boost troop morale. The following day, No.19, she blanks Kissinger's request to create a humanitarian corridor to the Egyptian 3rd Army and demands that Sadat recognises Israel in suing for peace. He warns that he will be replaced by a Soviet puppet and Meir tells him about the way the Cossacks had treated Jews in Kyiv and refuses to return to being the little girl cowering in a cellar. Stressed by her brinksmanship, she rushes into the bathroom to throw up and Kadder makes sure she takes her pills.
On Day 20, Egypt send a representative to meet with Israeli officials and a message from Sadat specifically refers to Meir as `the Prime Minister of Israel'. He also agrees to a prisoner exchange and Meir is congratulated by her inner circle. As they celebrate, Dayan tells her that the listening system had been switched off on the day of the invasion and that Zeira had hidden a Soviet-Iraqi exchange about the war to cover his back.
On Day 21, Meir had watched tearfully as Shapiro was told of the death of her son and she goes to the airport to watch coffins being unloaded from a cargo plane. As she leaves, the inquiry, she acknowledges that she should have mobilised all her forces on the night before the attack, as her gut had told her that war was coming. She asks that her comment about taking the guilt to her grave be kept from the record.
A year to the day from her first face-to-face meeting with Sadat - and while Menachem Begin was travelling jointly to receive the Nobel Peace Prize - Meir died on 8 December 1978. Closing captions explain to Leonard Cohen's `Who By Fire' that the Agranat Commission cleared her of any wrong-doing in connection to the war and that she lived to see the signing of the Camp David Agreement, which was the first treaty between Israel and one of its Arab neighbours. Accompanying footage of her funeral, a caption avers that saving her country from annihilation will remain her memorial.
Any biography of Golda Meir is likely to present events from her perspective and those who have taken issue with both the stance adopted by Nicholas Martin's screenplay and the conclusions it draws can hardly be surprised by its apologist nature or lack of balance. The `Jewface' accusations laid against Mirren and Nattiv have been equally vehement, even though her casting had been suggested by Meir's grandson, Gideon, and Mirren has a long attachment to the country after spending time on a kibbutz on falling for an Israeli man when she was 29.
Recent films like Steven Spielberg's The Fabelmans, Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer, and Bradley Cooper's Maestro have similarly cast non-Jewish actors as Jewish characters and the levels of protest have been inconsistent, to say the least. Perhaps that's why a degree of chauvinism has been levelled against some of the tirades against Mirren because Meir remains a divisive figure in Israel, in spite of the release a decade ago of documents revealing that she had essentially taken the blame for the failings of her male subordinates.
For the record, William Gibson wrote two plays about Meir. Anne Bancroft (who had converted to Judaism on marrying Mel Brooks) took the lead in Golda on Broadway in 1977, while Tovah Feldshuh starred in Golda's Balcony in 2003 before Valerie Harper took the play on tour. Subsequently, Lynn Cohen played the Israeli prime minister in Steven Spielberg's Munich (2003), while Feldshuh and Beata Fudalej respectively essayed her in Elie Chouraqui's O Jerusalem (2006) and Márta Mészáros's The Hope (2009). Meanwhile, production is still apparently ongoing on Lioness, a mini-series starring Shira Haas that is being produced by Barbra Streisand. So, Mirren is not the only non-Jew to have played Meir.
Regardless of any agendas being aired in critiquing Golda, these issues remain problematic. As does the fact that Nattiv (who was four months old at the time of the conflict) and Martin seek to redraft the narrative and want audiences to accept that Meir was tough, fearless, cunning, and even ruthlessly pragmatic without providing them with any backstory or insights into her personality, let alone any sense of how Israel fitted into the geopolitical scheme of things in the early 1970s.
They're also confounded by a self-conscious solemnity that seeps into Mirren's performance. It's almost as though she feels constrained by Karen Hartley Thomas's exemplary hair and make-up work, which will surely be recognised come Oscar time. Her posture, gait, and accent are as authentic as her wrinkles and ankles. But one only has to look at Golda Meir bantering with wit and humanity with Anwar Sadat in the news footage showing on the hospital room television in the closing sequence to appreciate the chasm between the real person and the impersonation.
It's tempting to contrast Mirren's work with Meryl Streep's Oscar-winning display as another Iron Lady in Phyllida Law's 2011 biopic. Scripted by Abi Morgan, that also suffered from a certain stiffness in its depiction of historical figures and momentous events. While comparisons with waxworks seem unfair, the supporting players here are certainly restricted by the imposed tone, with Liev Schreiber being particularly circumscribed as Henry Kissinger after meeting with him to gain insights into his encounters with Meir and her character.
Arad Sawat's production design, Jasper Wolf's photography, Arik Lahav-Leibovich's editing, and Niv Adiri's sound design are all distinctively proficient, although Dascha Dauenhauer's score occasionally feels overly emphatic, in spite of its atmospheric use of discordant violins, Japanese percussion, and detuned cowbells. The images of smoke and overflowing ashtrays serve a purpose, but they are overdone. Similarly, the murmuration and telephone nightmare sequences jarringly undermine the gravity of the overall situation, as does the subplot of the fictional secretary's missing son. Given the casualty figures involved (40,000 killed or wounded in total) and the legacy of the Yom Kippur War, this is not a subject deserving of the utmost gravity. But this weighty sincerity of the writing, direction, and acting mean that this lacks impact as a war film, intrigue as a political drama, and insight as an intimate profile. Maybe someone should release Sagi Bornstein, Udi Nir, and Shani Rozanes's documentary, Golda (2019), to contextualise this sincere, but superficial portrait.
Dundonian Mikey Murray won the Scottish BAFTA for First-Time Writer for his 2007 short, Breaking. Subsequently, he has co-written Mat Owen's Turn On (2014) and directed Stickers (2009), City (2015), and Natalie (2017) while lecturing in film production at the University of Lincoln. It's a shame that none of these shorts is available online, as, if his debut feature, Mind-Set, is anything to go by, they would most likely be eminently watchable.
Long-together couple, Lucy (Eilis Cahill) and Paul (Steve Oram) live in a monochrome world in which endurance handjobs are followed by awkward pillow talk, phone swipes, and silent farts. When they throw a fancy dress party, she smiles indulgently at his feeble jokes towards her friends, Sue (Pauline Lynch) and Fiona (Rhiannon Wyn), while he talks them and her office colleague, Daniel (Peter Bankolé), through the plus points of the new bidet.
As he leaves the bathroom, Paul turns a wooden elephant on the side so its trunk points to the right (Lucy prefers it the other way round). He returns to the main room (where guests gossip about Lucy inheriting a fortune, hence the impressive house) just as she is serving three types of vol-au-vents and he cuts off her spiel by shovelling one into his mouth.
She's cross with him for sleeping late while she cleans up alone and ignores a text to fetch milk while she's power-walking. He gives grief to a delivery man (Robin Laing) bringing a Marshall Tucker Band LP for his vinyl collection and a tennis racquet for her, because he thinks it would do her good to do some exercise. Snarkily, she hopes his record isn't scratched and they sit in well-worn silence.
An agoraphobic who rarely ventures out, Paul has long been working on a screenplay about a teenage space cadet, but he gets distracted and watches the women's tennis on his computer. Lucy spent the day watching Daniel and complains over supper that her boss is a middle-class entitled nobody with no management skills. Barely listening, Paul tells Lucy about his hero's laser gun skills and she jokes that she would have zapped everything if she'd had one at his age.
Taking medication for a mental health issue, Lucy often seeks sanctuary in boxily colourful home-movie reveries in which she pats a black horse in a field to the accompaniment of Country Joe and The Fish's `Who Am I?'. They make a change from watching the cars go backwards in slow-motion around the traffic island outside her office window. The rest of her life, however, is a series of mundanities, whether it's neighbour Joe (Andrew John Tait) trying to talk her into a post-work game of tennis by doing hamstring stretches in tight shorts on the front wall or Paul trying to coax her into having sex in the least romantic ways possible.
Even Daniel annoys her when he informs her that he has recently moved `down from London', even though they live north of the capital. But Lucy starts eating her sandwiches with him at lunchtime and feels sufficiently good about life to flush her pills down the loo. She even forgives Paul for failing to empty the dishwasher and for wasting his day watching tennis in his leopard print dressing-gown when he makes her favourite dish of cheesy beans on toast.
Ignoring his efforts to get her to join the local tennis club, Lucy starts playing squash with Daniel and finds her mind drifting on to him while she's working. Sitting opposite, Sue senses something is going on and knowingly invites Lucy to a drink at the pub with Daniel and a few others. She chooses to go home, where Paul is feeling sorry for himself, as he had got so carried away playing shadow tennis in the mirror that he had jogged out to the front gate and had a panic attack. He lies about having gone a couple of streets and whimpers about fish fingers for tea, as Lucy tries to be supportive by stroking his back, as he cowers in bed.
Having tried to persuade Pat (Julia Deakin) at the charity shop to swap her £70 tennis racquet for an 80p squash racquet, Lucy teases Daniel about beating him and makes a risqué joke about squash being like sex. She's still feeling competitive when Paul's actor pal, Chris (Philip Stevens), and his two-year girlfriend, Sammy (Lucy-Jane Quinlan), come to dinner. Chris ribs Paul about becoming vegetarian and scoffs when he describes his screenplay as `Brokeback Mountain meets Silent Running'. When Chris asks if there's a non-gay role in it for him, Lucy goes on the attack and asks him to leave when he complains that people can't voice their opinions any longer and that there should be a space in the calendar for Normal Day.
Once they're alone, Paul asks Lucy if she's taking her pills. He asks if she still fancies Chris because he knows they slept together at university. She informs him that Chris had flashed her in the bathroom, but Paul keeps prodding and asks why Lucy no longer wants sex with him when she's clearly being flirtatious with her squash partner. When Lucy stomps into the kitchen, Paul follows and gets his nipples twisted for not knowing Daniel's name.
Next day, Lucy takes out her frustration on Sue, while Paul gets a (mid-wank) call from actor Nick Reynolds (Jeremy Isaacs) to inform him that the cadet script has been greenlit by a mid-sized American studio and that shooting is set to start in a month. Having done a couple of self-assuringly macho press-ups to celebrate, Paul returns to his porn, while Lucy emerges from her safe space to take Daniel to a hotel for some lunchtime delight. Taken aback, he fails to perform and she laughs at the pet name he has for his genitals while refusing his suggestions for alternative positions. When he asks about breaking the news to Paul, she snorts that this was a recreational fling not the start of a whirlwind romance and she accuses him of only being interested in her for her money. Offended, Daniel gets out of bed and calls her `weird' before leaving her crying.
Stopping on the way home to donate the squash racquet at the charity shop, Lucy arrives home with the tennis racquet and clings to Paul, who is cooking in the kitchen. They sway to Marshall Tucker's `I Should Have Never Started Lovin' You' on the record player and, having broken away to remove the needle, he tells her the good news about the screenplay. She is overjoyed and they are having a nice dinner and getting drunk when she pulls him on to the sofa. However, she feels the need to tell him about Daniel and ruins the moment. Nevertheless, he cuddles her and tells her that she might have a part in the movie. However, she needs to resume taking her pills and he agrees to accompany her to the park as part of the deal. Slipping away to the bathroom, Lucy turns the elephant and returns to find Paul zonked out.
Waking next morning, Paul feels guilty and makes coffee before entering the bedroom. He finds Lucy dead from an overdose, beside a note of apology. Wrapping her in his dressing-gown, he carries her to the front path, but can go no further before being seized by remorse, despair, and fear.
According to the old maxim gleaned from George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman: `Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.' But Mark Jenkin, Chris Morris, Sue Clayton, Erik Knudsen, and now Mikey Murray are proving that there are plenty of parochial film lecturers dotted across the country who know exactly what they're doing behind the camera.
Owing more than a little to the work of Ben Wheatley, this crowdfunded indie is an acutely observed relationship study that benefits equally from Murray's sharp script and the wonderful performances of Eilis Cahill and Steve Oram. We're so used to the latter excelling that it's easy to overlook the deftness of his acting. But those who didn't see Cahill in the likes of Jim Mickle's Stake Land (2010), Robert G. Putka's Mad (2016), and Phil Messerer's Oops! You're a Vampire (2022) will be bowled over by the edgy intensity that brings to mind Judith Anderson and Angela Pleasence.
Murray's direction is also first rate, as he keeps placing Jack Shelbourn's camera in unexpected places and moving it with a stealth that increases the viewer's discomfort at having to eavesdrop on conversations that are quirkily affectionate, spikily personal, and disarmingly relatable. He also latches on to the items meticulously placed around production designer Hazel Connelly's interiors, such as the cuddly and wooden elephants that shade in the outlines of a dysfunctional relationship that often feels as comfortable as it is threadbare.
Despite leaving the audience to ponder precisely who Lucy intended to punish by her desperate action, the ending seems unnecessarily melodramatic. But this is a noteworthy debut, with everything from the support playing to the soundtrack choices being spot on.
GHOSTS OF THE CHELSEA HOTEL (AND OTHER ROCK & ROLL STORIES).
In the opening sequence of Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel, Belgian documentarists Amelié van Elmbt and Maya Duverdier invoked the spirits haunting the Gothic edifice in New York by projecting images of Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dalí, and Nico on to a brick chimney. Following on from Nigel Finch's Chelsea Hotel (1981) and Abel Ferrara's Chelsea on the Rocks (2008), this engaged study of how the current residents were coping with an extensive renovation devoted little time to the heyday of this fabled bohemian sanctuary. But Danny Garcia and editor/executive producer Chip Baker have a chance to put this right in Ghosts of the Chelsea Hotel (and Other Rock & Roll Stories).
According to Sherill Tippins, the author of Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York's Legendary Chelsea Hotel, the 222 West 23rd Street is the largest and longest-lived artistic community in the world. Designed by Frenchman Philip Hubert, it was built between 1883-85 with artists in mind, as some rooms had good light to suit painters, while others intended for musicians and singers had soundproofed walls. Photographer/film-maker Zev Greenfield, musician Tim Sullivan, interior designer Colleen Weinstein, artist Susan Kleinsinger, singer Ruby Lynn Reyner, and Chelsea Guitars owner Dan Courtenay all chip in with facts, as they recall such esteemed tenants as actress Sarah Bernhardt, theatre impresarios David Belasco and the Frohman brothers, dancer, Isadora Duncan, painter John Sloan, and writer William Dean Howells.
Staff member William Benton corrects the rumour that Dylan Thomas died at Hotel Chelsea after he lapsed into a coma after drinking 18 whiskies at the White Horse Tavern, while also pointing out that some of the survivors of the RMS Titanic's sinking stayed there in 1912. Tippins notes that the hotel was acquired by David Bard for around $36,000 after it went bankrupt during the Great Depression, when its residents included Thomas Wolfe and Edgar Lee Masters. She also namechecks Mark Twain, who liked being able to live unjudged and she opines that the Chelsea chimed in with the literary notions of utopia that had arisen during the Gilded Age.
The Bard era is most associated with the hip image that arose under Stanley Bard in the 1950s, when Arthur Miller and wife Marilyn Monroe were in residence, along with Beat writers Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Brion Gysin and such artists as Andy Warhol and Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Actor Michael Imperioli, event planner Man-Laï Liang, and art dealer Rodrigo Salomon echo Tippins in believing that Bard wanted to create an artistic enclave and that was why he accepted paintings in lieu of rent and allowed people to run up debts (which he always insisted on chasing) because he was a nice man with a cultured soul.
As musician Richard Barone points out, the likes of Bob Dylan came to the Chelsea to write because it was close to the Greenwich Village folk scene and people left him alone. Creative director Tony Zanetta fondly recalls Warhol shooting Chelsea Girls (1966) and going to Max's Kansas City. An anecdote is told about Iggy Pop crashing on downers at the hotel after playing four gigs with The Stooges, while Canadian musician Cynthia Ross discusses the Chelsea connection with compatriot, Leonard Cohen. Barone and Sullivan link this into `Chelsea Hotel No.2', which Cohen wrote about a fling with Janis Joplin, who became close to a nurse who lived in the building after she had complained about the noise.
Egalitarian Emmett Grogan of The Diggers joined forces with producer John Houseman to get The Grateful Dead to play on the roof, which reminds Tippins of the fact that the Chelsea boasted a political coterie that included pioneering Communist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, avant-garde film-maker Shirley Clarke, and artist Rita Fecher, whose work is commemorated by her son, Zev Greenfield.
Photographer Marcia Resnick extols the Chelsea for resisting commercialisation and remaining a haven for independence and experimentation. Musicians Harley Flanagan and Neon Leon Webster join Greenfield in recalling people-watching in the lobby to see the likes of Quentin Crisp, poet Gregory Corso, and George Kleinsinger (who wrote `Tubby the Tuba' and `Shinbone Alley). He was famous for the exotic animals in his apartment and his claim that the ghost of HAL, the computer from Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey (which was written at the Chelsea), haunted the elevator.
Actor Victor Colicchio remembers being told not to go above the Eighth Floor, as it was dangerous. But, there were shady characters, there were icons like Robert Mapplethorpe, Nico, and Debbie Harry. Photographer Paul Cornyetz recalls Patti Smith living at the Chelsea, while Sullivan and podcaster Rocker Mike mention Bill Graham, Jimi Hendrix, and Duane Allman passing through. Artist Lynn Reyner reminisces about Bob Marley, while Salomon riffs on a night with Tim Hardin.
Flanagan thanks his lucky stars for the Chelsea, as his parents met there at a party thrown by Harry Smith, who collected the songs in The Anthology of American Folk Music, which influenced everyone from Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, and Eric Anderson to The Lovin' Spoonful and Tiny Tim. Van Zandt claims Smith also sold `magic' items to Hollywood stars like Jackie Gleason, who were into the occult. But there's no time to pause and take this on (there seemingly never is), as Garcia whisks us off to hear musician Howie Pyro join the chorus of those lamenting how seedy the Chelsea and its environs became in the 1970s, when pimps, hookers, dealers, and deviants took over. Author Patty Powers recalls the grim conditions in her room.
Actor Ned Van Zandt remembers Iggy Pop telling him to quit drugs, while Pyro alights on characters like artist Richard Bernstein and the 90 year-old composer of `Happy Birthday' (whose name he can't remember). Names like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, David Bowie, Stiv Bators, and Sid Vicious are bandied around. But not even Nancy Spungen's death can slow Garcia down, although he does allow Flanagan to confide that he was the first person to stay in Room 100 after the incident and he licked what he thought might have been a bloodstain in the bathroom because it seemed like a punk thing to do.
Sullivan reflects on encounters with jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius, Gil Scott Heron and Lou Reed, as well as artists like Larry Rivers and Vali Myers. Music producer Lisa Fancher muses on the sad career of Jobriath, who was known as the American Bowie but could never live up to the hype. We see a clip of him singing `Sunday Brunch' at his white piano from Finch's BBC documentary and learn that he wound up playing bar piano under his own name, Bruce Wayne Campbell, before succumbing to AIDS alone in the Chelsea Pyramid in 1983.
Rather than take his time over a worthwhile story, Garcia shoots off again to hustle through references to Miller, Warhol, and Dee Dee Ramone, who is briefly remembered by cinematographer friend Mark Brady, although Sullivan and Courtenay regret that he could be emotionally unstable. Imperioli pays passing tribute to composer Virgil Thomson before alluding to his performance in Mary Harron's I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) and the fact he enlisted the help of a witch to get Spike Lee's Summer of Sam (1999) made.
Next on the conveyor belt is Hiroya, the Japanese artist whose circle-centric paintings, murals, and impromptu Kabuki performances in the lobby are recalled with melancholic affection by Marcia Resnick. Imperioli is similarly gracious in discussing poet Herbert Huncke, who may have had his rent paid by The Grateful Dead because he had been such an influence on the Beats. A throwaway mention of fellow poet Rene Ricard is followed by Sullivan's recollections of a woman's suicide leap and the infamous Club Kids murder, when Michael Alig and Freeze Riggs killed Angel Melendez during an argument over drugs in March 1996.
Captions intrude to announce Bard's departure from the Chelsea and we hear a few grumbles about the behaviour of the stockholders who forced him out and the three subsequent owners. But this doesn't delay Garcia for long, as wire sculptor Skye Ferrante has caught his attention because he reckons the Chelsea has an ego of its own and is a people magnet. He tosses the names of Rufus Wainwright and Dave Grohl into the mix before Dahlia Weinstein raises him with Ethan Hawke and Anthony Kiedis and Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Josh Brolin and Diane Lane. We learn nothing more than this. So, if we're playing the name game, how about Rolling Stone Brian Jones, who lived in Room 206, Jerry Garcia (620), Jim Morrison (722), or Jackson Pollock (902). See, it's easy. Anyone can do it.
Tippins claims the Chelsea is the most haunted place in the city beside the New York Public Library. She refers to Mary, a woman in 19th-century clothing who has been seen brushing her hair in a mirror, while Imperioli posits that the woman he saw purportedly committed suicide after waiting in vain to greet her husband off the Titanic. While writing Summer of Sam in Imperioli's room, Colicchio swears that he was molested by a gay ghost in the shower.
The widow of club owner, Arthur Weinstein, Colleen Weinstein regales us with an encounter in the corridor with Steve Rubell, the late co-founder of Studio 54, while daughter Dahlia remembers seeing her mother sitting with a spectre with its arm around her. Sullivan describes how the Betty Boop-like face of a prostitute named Tish (who had died of AIDS) had appeared in someone's dressing-table mirror, while he also felt a supernatural presence in the room that had been converted from Sid and Nancy's room. Man-Laï Liang speaks up for her friendly old lady ghost, while we see a shadowy presence on the wall in a photo taken on the first floor by Michele Montalvo at 2am on 2/2/2012.
Onetime telephone engineer Rocker Mike describes a feather touch on his back in the basement and an apparition in the doorway and Tippins confirms that a woman died in a fire when the lot was occupied by a furniture warehouse co-owned by corrupt politician Boss Tweed, who seemingly had the premises torched for the insurance. When Hubert was looking for somewhere to build, he found the vacant plot, got it cheap, and created a landmark that Imperioli, Colicchio, Van Zandt, Colleen Weinstein, Sullivan, Courtenay, and Man-Laï Liang all praise in summation. Tippins compares it to an old tree that keeps growing, but Ferrante believes it needs new blood, as the veterans are dying off and he wonders whether the character of the Chelsea might change as a consequence.
Closing on a piano cheerio from George Kleinsinger, this busy documentary certainly packs a lot in. Garcia and Baker have conducted a profitable raid on the archives and have pieced together the various stills and films clips with pace and precision. But the material is essentially used to illustrate an endless list of names that is churned out by a surfeit of contributors who often seem to be talking as much about themselves as the Chelsea's more celebrated occupants.
Several faces will be familiar from Van Elmbt and Duverdier's tour, although few titbits are recycled. The Belgians, however, had a much firmer grasp of the layout and ambience of the hotel, which doesn't seem to interest Garcia, as he contents himself with static interviews and the odd corridor glide. To his credit, he outdoes his predecessors in terms of names dropped, but he rarely follows them up. Indeed, only Jobriath is accorded anything like a proper tribute. Too much foreknowledge is presumed, as not every former resident is a cultural icon and many viewers will have to spend a considerable amount of post-screening time Googling.
The value of the interviews varies greatly, although this could have been rectified by a bit less gossip and humblebragging and a lot more Sherill Tippins. Evidently, the back catalogue of Cat Casual & The Final Word was cheaper to acquire for the soundtrack than period recordings. But surely a snippet of Nico performing `Chelsea Girls' in one of the rooms with Joe Bidewell on electric guitar would have been a worthwhile investment? Ultimately, this is good fun, especially when it finally gets round to the ghosts. However, it lacks curiosity and depth.