Manhattan’s famed Chelsea Hotel is steeped in the mystique of rebellious bohemians who pursued their artistic dreams for years, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. In the first images of Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel we see archive images of famous artists and musicians projected on the walls of the hotel, including Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dalí. For years it was a famous artist’s hotel, but that time is gone forever due to a renovation into a hip hotel.

Dreaming Walls shows the consequences of this nearly eleven-year renovation for the residents who have often lived there for years and cannot be evicted due to rent protection. Not only are they in the construction chaos for a long time, but they will never be able to pay the rent once the transformation is finished – that was in February 2022.

Stark contrast

So lays Dreaming Walls yet another case of gentrification in New York, more and more a metropolis for rich people. The old hotel residents have moved to the first floor as much as possible. They are no longer allowed to use the beautiful cast-iron stairs, but have to take a separate elevator, so that they do not cause a nuisance to the other, much more money-making hotel guests.

Belgian directors Amélie van Elmbt and Maya Duverdier portray a number of these old residents, including choreographer Merle Lister, artist Susan Kleinsinger and author/sculptor Skye Ferrante. Their non-commercial views on artistry contrast starkly with the dollar signs in the eyes of the new hotel owners (to whom no further attention is paid). In doing so, the camera floats through the corridors of the old hotel, which is full of ghosts from the past. Archive footage, including gritty videos, evoke the rich past of the Chelsea Hotel, which opened in 1885. The more sensitive you are to the (false?) romanticism surrounding bohemian artists, the more you will like this somewhat too impressionistic documentary.

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