New York’s Famous Chelsea Hotel and Its Creative Residents Revisited in a 1981 Documentary

Last year, we fea­tured a clip of Nico singing “Chelsea Girls” at the Hotel Chelsea, the much-mythol­o­gized Man­hat­tan insti­tu­tion that, at one time or anoth­er, housed a range of cul­tur­al fig­ures includ­ing Mark Twain, Bob Dylan, Dylan Thomas, Charles Bukows­ki, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Pat­ti Smith, Robert Map­plethor­pe, Allen Gins­berg, Hen­ri Carti­er-Bres­son, Iggy Pop, Gaby Hoff­mann, Sid Vicious, and Arthur Miller. “The Chelsea in the Six­ties seemed to com­bine two atmos­pheres,” writes Miller in a 1978 essay on his time there. “A scary opti­mistic chaos which pre­dict­ed the hip future, and at the same time the feel of a mas­sive, old-fash­ioned, shel­ter­ing fam­i­ly. That at least was the myth one nursed in one’s mind, but like all myths it did not alto­geth­er stand inspec­tion.” That era more than arguably marked the Chelsea’s social and cul­tur­al hey­day.

A few years lat­er, in 1981, BBC’s arts doc­u­men­tary series Are­na made its way to New York to inves­ti­gate the his­to­ry and then-cur­rent state of this ver­i­ta­ble coun­ter­cul­ture incu­ba­tor. The film spends time with cur­rent Chelsea res­i­dents, for­mer Chelsea res­i­dents, and Chelsea habitués notable, cre­ative, and oth­er­wise — the notably cre­ative Andy Warhol, William Bur­roughs, and Quentin Crisp all make appear­ances. It also talks to the hotel’s staff and fol­lows a tour guide as he leads a curi­ous group through its sto­ried cor­ri­dors. “With all my mis­giv­ings about the Chelsea,” Miller reflects, “I can nev­er enter it with­out a cer­tain quick­en­ing of my heart­beat. There is an inde­scrib­ably home­like atmos­phere which at the same time lacks a cer­tain cred­i­bil­i­ty. It is some kind of fic­tion­al place, I used to think. As in dreams things are out front that are con­cealed in oth­er hotels.”

For more, you might want to spend time with “An Oral His­to­ry of the Chelsea Hotel: Where the Walls Still Talk,” which appeared in Van­i­ty Fair last Octo­ber.

Find the doc­u­men­tary above list­ed in our col­lec­tion of 625 Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, etc.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Nico Sings “Chelsea Girls” in the Famous Chelsea Hotel

Iggy Pop Con­ducts a Tour of New York’s Low­er East Side, Cir­ca 1993

Charles Bukows­ki Takes You on a Very Uncon­ven­tion­al Tour of Hol­ly­wood

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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