Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Chelsea Walls

Traditionally a hotbed of creativity and unhealthy living, New York's Hotel Chelsea has lost some of the vibrancy of its golden age, but as one character in Chelsea Walls notes, ghosts still thrive in the crumbling hallways. A mud-stained love letter to the self-proclaimed "rest stop for rare individuals" and one-time home to everyone from Dylan Thomas to Sid Vicious, Chelsea Walls, the feature directorial debut of Ethan Hawke, works equally poorly as a tourist brochure and as a drama. Walls is the second offering (after Richard Linklater's Tape) from InDigEnt, a project dedicated to releasing low-budget films shot on digital video. The gritty medium proves well-suited to the Chelsea's peeling interiors and shambling inhabitants, but that appropriateness doesn't extend much further. Following a dozen-plus Chelsea residents over the course of a couple of days, Hawke's film parcels out countless independent-film actors into rooms that wouldn't seem out of place in an indie conception of purgatory. Behind the Chelsea's closed doors, Hawke and screenwriter Nicole Burdette (who also wrote the play on which the film is based) find beautiful losers flailing through half-formed relationships and speaking the aimless dialogue of the poetically disaffected. Behind door number one, there's Kris Kristofferson, playing the sort of writer made brilliant by a good stiff drink. Door number two conceals Robert Sean Leonard and Steve Zahn, self-destructive musicians who just rolled into town from Minnesota. In the pit of loneliness found behind door number three, Vincent D'Onofrio paints and pines away for neighbor Uma Thurman. And so it goes, on down the hallway. As an actor, Hawke has gotten more impressive with age, but as a director, he still has growing up to do. Visually, Chelsea Walls has a point-and-shoot quality that does little to offset the ripe, familiar material. Aside from Burdette, Hawke does show a knack for choosing the right collaborators. The actors instinctively underplay their parts, and a strange, repetitive score by Jeff Tweedy helps emphasize the claustrophobia of the superstar location. Still, the film makes bohemia look more annoying than liberating, and makes the Chelsea seem like the last place rare individuals, or anyone else, would look for inspiration.

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