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‘Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel’ review: Ignores the past to focus on the future

Rage against the renovations.

Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel is filled with big names. The documentary was executive produced by Martin Scorsese while the hotel has been home to Marilyn Monroe and Madonna, just to name a pair of iconic stars. But the story being told is a much more personal one. The hotel stopped taking reservations for permanent residents in 2011 and closed down for renovations. The film is mainly about the long time residents who were allowed to remain.

Those looking for an in-depth history of the (in)famous hotel are certain to be disappointed. There is not much talk of the Chelsea’s past and little in the way of archival footage. While it would be impossible to give even the briefest worthwhile overview in the space of eighty minutes, when a film starts with footage of Patti Smith, a certain expectation is built.

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It does not help that Dreaming Walls does not seem to have a clear direction. It touches on the past of its residents and the complaints they have about the legalities of what is being done and their living conditions, but nothing is given enough time to develop into anything worthwhile. That being said, the film does a great job of capturing the fears of what the future brings.

It is in the stories of the current residents that the documentary excels. Along with the difficulties they face due to the conditions, there are also the internal tensions. During these moments filmmakers Maya Duverdier and Amélie van Elmbt take more care in letting tales be told. As the audience learns about the lives of the people who have remained at the the Chelsea, it is also an opportunity to get an idea of what the hotel was once like. It is not the best way to get across the building’s colorful past, but it is the closest it ever comes.

Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel comes to select theaters and VOD July 8


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