Chelsea on the Rocks


This was the official website for Chelsea on the Rocks, a documentary film directed by Abel Ferrara about the Hotel Chelsea. It premiered out of competition at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival.
Content is from the site's archived pages as well as from other sources.

Initial release: May 23, 2008
Director: Abel Ferrara
Music composed by: Robert Burger
Screenplay: Abel Ferrara, Christ Zois
Story by: Abel Ferrara, Christ Zois, David Linter


The latest film from Abel Ferrara, New Yorks notorious poet of the street, CHELSEA ON THE ROCKS is a fascinating, freewheeling personal journey inside the walls, history and mythology of Manhattans celebrated bohemian landmark, The Chelsea Hotel. Famed home to such icons as Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Tennessee Williams, Charles Bukowski, Andy Warhol and Mark Twain, and perennial shelter to artists great and small, new management has recently begun evicting boho tenants in favor of a more upscale crowd, prompting long-time resident Ferrara (GO GO TALES, KING OF NEW YORK, BAD LIEUTENANT) to capture the ragged splendor of the place before its unique spirit is lost forever.

Trolling the low-lit halls, visiting the hotels cast of memorable characters and raconteurs, and hanging out in the gallery-like lobby strewn with tenants paintings, CHELSEA ON THE ROCKS is shot through with an infectious brio, gallows humor and a hard-knock warmth to match its uniquely beloved subject. Ferraras first documentary feature, it includes interviews with residents past and present such as Milos Forman, Ethan Hawke, Dennis Hopper and R. Crumb, vintage music and archival footage, and dramatic re-enactments summoning ghosts of the Chelseas storied past Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious, Janis Joplin performed by Bijou Phillips, Adam Goldberg, Giancarlo Esposito, and Grace Jones.

Built in 1883 and steadfast within an ever-changing city landscape, The Chelsea Hotel remained a respite and inspiration to artists, writers and performers, as well as a remarkably supportive base for assorted junkies, prostitutes, aspirants and hermits. As yet another of New Yorks cultural landmarks threatens to effectively vanish for the sake of a bland corporate status quo, CHELSEA ON THE ROCKS passionately shows how its often the misfit structures and citizens that possess a citys soul.



Update: If you have visited an apartment in The Chelsea Hotel prior to 2011 you would not recognize the interior today. In 2011 the hotel was sold to real estate developer Joseph Chetrit for US $80 million and then "renovated" for two years before it was sold to King & Grove, a boutique-hotel chain, which is currently overseeing a $40 million renovation. For the last 50 years, the Chelsea was run as an informal artists’ colony with artists trading paintings for rent, or living for free if that was what the hotel's manager, Stanley Bard decreed. The free rents were probably subsidized by the exorbitant rates paid by the children of the hyper-rich—another demographic that were historically been drawn to the hotel. And then there were the tourists from all over the world paid for cheerless rooms and the opportunity to sit in the moldering lobby and gawk. I remember visiting a musician friend who was staying there for several months. I was stunned to see that on the first floor there were prostitutes and pimps. For me it was unbelievable. Of course years later it seemed there were wide-eyed tourists snapping photos of the lobby as residents swept past them without a glance, rather than prostitutes and pimps. As of 2013 the hotel looked like a construction site. I couldn't imagine any tenets still living there. The restored Hotel Chelsea reopens in 2018 following a $250M purchase in 2016 by Richard Born and Ira Drukier of BD Hotels and hotelier Sean MacPherson. The new owners announced they would redevelop the property as a hotel and condos, departing from previous plans of simply converting the structure into a high-end hotel. And can you believe it, there are still tenants living there. “We believe that we’ve made peace with virtually every tenant. There are maybe two or three tenants who are still having issues,” BD Hotels’ Richard Born told The Real Deal in November. “We’re dealing with a monumental city landmark. We have gone through [and] caused as little inconvenience as possible.” The Chelsea Hotel lives on.




Abel Ferrara
I’ve stayed at some of the best hotels in the world. I've also been kicked out of some of the best, butthey all really pale in comparison to the Chelsea Hotel.

Producer Jen Gatien (daughter of my longtime friend Peter Gatien) was living on the 7th floor when Stanley Bard and his son were forced out. Stanley had been manager of the inglorious baronial hotel for 45 years and the rumor began to swirl about what would happen.Jen became impassioned to put the story of the Chelsea to screen.

The device was a filmic structure that intertwinesarchival footage, interviews and narrative sequencesas well as actors who are very much part of the soulof the hotel (Ethan Hawke, Adam  Goldberg, Dennis Hopper).

I took these stories and reunited psychiatrist/screenwriter Christ Zois (NEW ROSE HOTEL and THE BLACKOUT) who has written my last two films.

The Chelsea Hotel, since it's inception, has been a place of great artistic tradition. FromTwain, Dylan Thomas, Nabokov and Tennessee Williams, to Arthur Miller and Bob Dylan it was important to create something that would be reverent to that incredible legacy.


CHELSEA ON THE ROCKS celebrates the personalities and artistic voices that have  emerged from this legendary residence in the heart of New York. The 12- storey, 250- room Chelsea Hotel - originally built in 1883 as Manhattan's first cooperative apartment, and the tallest building in New York until1902 - was converted into a hotel and residence in1905. Once considered an untouchable, impenetrable tower for writers, artists, musicians and mavericks, it has recently been claimed as a boutique hotel venture for a management company which shows blatant disregard for its formidable history.

CAST (as themselves)
Ethan Hawke
Dennis Hopper
Milos Forman
Gaby Hoffmann
R. Crumb
Lola Schnabel
Stanley Bard
Vito Acconci
Janis Joplin (ARCHIVAL)
Sid Vicious (ARCHIVAL)
William S. Burroughs (ARCHIVAL)
Jerry Garcia (ARCHIVAL)
Quentin Crisp (ARCHIVAL)

CAST (in re-enactments)
Adam Goldberg- Steve
Bijou Phillips- Nancy
Grace Jones- Bev
Giancarlo Esposito- Tip
Christy Scott Cashman- Vera
Shanyn Leigh- Janis
Jamie Burke- Sid

The officially landmarked building is recognized as an American cultural icon and renowned for those who have lived and created there, including Sir Arthur Clarke, Bob Dylan, Stanley Kubrick,Arthur Miller, Joni Mitchell, Dee Dee Ramone, Larry Rivers, Dylan Thomas, Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, Milos Forman, Janis Joplin,Donald Sutherland, Patti Smith, Philip Taaffe,Dennis Hopper, Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, Eugene O'Neill, Jane Fonda, Leonard Cohen,Robert Mapplethorpe, Tom Waits, Courtney Love,Sam Shepard, Charles Bukowski, Julian Schnabel, Jasper Johns, Viva, Quentin Crisp, Jimi Hendrix and many others (some of whom appear in this film).

Beyond the famous are the little known who have made this their refuge in New York
- countless writers, painters, directors, costume and lighting designers, gallerists and curators, and those who are just always there with no visible means of
support. And then there are those - most famously Sid Vicious' girlfriend Nancy Spungen -who died there.

Each of these characters fills out a cast that makes this story come together with the best of New York architecture, history, art, comedy and tragedy, all through the eyes and passion of acclaimed auteur Abel Ferrara. Interviewing current tenants, recreating scenes of events that occurred at the Chelsea and intertwining archival footage with different formats of film and video, Ferrara creates a film that breaks
through the documentary mold into something that captures the essence of the Chelsea Hotel.



Chelsea Lately

— Andrew Hultkrans

LONG A STUBBORN TOTEM of downbeat bohemia in the face of Manhattan’s gentrification, the Chelsea Hotel was wrenched into the corporate present in 2007, when members of the hotel’s board forced out the seemingly eternal manager/owner Stanley Bard in favor of BD Hotels, a boutique hotel firm that threatened to turn it into the Chambers, the Mercer, or something worse. (The board has since fired BD, with various scuffles and changeovers in management tracked on the Hotel Chelsea Blog.) Producer Jen Gatien was living in the Chelsea at the time of the initial ouster and was determined to document the last days of the old ways, when writers, artists, and musicians both famous and obscure could find refuge from rent and reality in the seedy grandeur of the 1883 landmark building. After beginning the project herself, she quickly turned to her father’s old friend and quintessential New York filmmaker Abel Ferrara (King of New York [1990], Bad Lieutenant [1992], The Addiction [1995]) to direct the doc. A native son currently living in Rome, Ferrara, who resembles the love child of Dennis Hopper and Andre the Giant and subsists largely on beer, returned to live at the hotel and began shooting.

It’s an odd, if charming, little film, blending vintage footage of the hotel and its past residents with casual, rambling talking-head interviews with present-day tenants, the deposed Bard, and some of its more famous veterans—Milos Forman, R. Crumb, Vito Acconci, and Ethan Hawke. Unfortunately, it also includes reenactments of the death spirals of Janis Joplin and Sid and Nancy played by Bijou Phillips, Jamie Burke, Grace Jones, and Adam Goldberg, among others. Now, any viewer of true-crime shows or the History Channel knows that reenactments are the dodgiest of dramatic forms. Ferrara has been a great director of actors and scenes, but these sub-A&E sequences do nothing for the film, the dead celebrities, or the hotel’s legacy. With the exception of a scene featuring Hawke singing and playing one of his “songs” on an out-of-tune piano, the reenactments are the film’s main missteps.

The Chelsea’s story is so storied that Ferrara ignores timeline-style cultural archaeology, preferring to hang out with his subjects in their rooms or the lobby and let the chips fall where they may. Nobody, but nobody, is named, leaving the viewer no idea whom he’s talking to at any time. Watching the film, you might never learn that Dylan Thomas drank himself to death at the Chelsea, that Mark Twain and Tennessee Williams stayed there, that Sir Arthur C. Clarke wrote the script for Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey while living inside its walls, or that it was the tallest building in New York until 1902. You will learn that a smoking kitchen pan led the fire department to drown the slumbering cook with their hoses; that a current resident suffered a brain aneurysm, lay on his floor for three days without help, and survived to tell the tale; that ghosts walk the halls at night; and that Bard never actually accepted artists’ paintings in lieu of rent (even though the lobby’s walls are covered with them). You will also see the world’s smallest Schnabel (a painting by Julian, not daughter Lola, who is in the film). It is pretty small.

Still, Ferrara captures the kooky melancholia of the hotel’s past and present, largely through tone and an empathetic, simpatico ear. At its core, the film is really more about the death of old New York than about the Chelsea itself. The city is cleaner, safer, and healthier, but it’s hard to say that something hasn’t been lost in the process. The Chelsea is a glorious, moldering monument to the artistic ferment of twentieth-century New York. Pay it a visit before it goes the way of Times Square.


Chelsea on the Rocks: More Background On Abel Ferrara's Documentary

"Chelsea on the Rocks," a documentary film directed by Abel Ferrara, captures the essence, history, and cultural significance of the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. Premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, this documentary provides a unique glimpse into the storied past and uncertain future of one of Manhattan's most iconic landmarks. Through a blend of interviews, archival footage, and re-enactments, Ferrara paints a vivid picture of the hotel that has been home to numerous artists, musicians, writers, and other creative minds. This article delves into the film's background, reviews, history, press and media coverage, audience reception, cultural and social significance, and specific details that make "Chelsea on the Rocks" a noteworthy documentary.

Background and Overview

The Chelsea Hotel

Built in 1883, the Chelsea Hotel was initially conceived as Manhattan's first cooperative apartment building and remained the tallest structure in New York until 1902. By 1905, it had been converted into a hotel and residence, quickly gaining a reputation as a haven for artists and bohemians. Over the years, the hotel became a symbol of creative freedom and artistic expression, hosting a plethora of famous residents, including Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Tennessee Williams, and Andy Warhol. It was within these walls that numerous works of art, literature, and music were conceived, contributing to the Chelsea's legendary status.

The Documentary

"Chelsea on the Rocks" is Abel Ferrara's first documentary feature, combining a freewheeling narrative style with a mix of interviews, archival footage, and dramatic re-enactments. The film includes appearances by notable figures such as Ethan Hawke, Dennis Hopper, Milos Forman, and R. Crumb, as well as dramatizations of events involving icons like Janis Joplin and Sid Vicious. Ferrara's intimate and often chaotic portrayal of the hotel's residents and history highlights the bohemian spirit and the looming threat of gentrification.

Reviews and Critical Reception

Critical Acclaim

"Chelsea on the Rocks" received a mix of praise and criticism from reviewers. Critics appreciated Ferrara's ability to capture the eccentric and vibrant spirit of the Chelsea Hotel. The film's raw and unfiltered approach resonated with those familiar with Ferrara's previous works, such as "Bad Lieutenant" and "King of New York." The documentary's nostalgic tone struck a chord with many viewers, as it mourned the passing of an era characterized by artistic freedom and cultural diversity.

Points of Criticism

Some critics pointed out the film's lack of structure and coherence, citing the meandering narrative as a potential drawback. The re-enactments, in particular, were seen as detracting from the documentary's authenticity. However, these criticisms did not overshadow the overall impact of the film, which remains a poignant tribute to a bygone era of New York City's cultural history.

Historical Context

The Golden Age of the Chelsea Hotel

The Chelsea Hotel's golden age spanned several decades, during which it served as a melting pot for artists, musicians, and writers. The hotel's unique management style, under the guidance of Stanley Bard, allowed many struggling artists to reside there in exchange for artwork or significantly reduced rent. This unconventional approach fostered a vibrant community where creativity thrived.

Notable Residents and Events

Throughout its history, the Chelsea Hotel has been home to a remarkable array of creative talents. Bob Dylan composed some of his most famous songs within its walls, while Arthur C. Clarke wrote the screenplay for "2001: A Space Odyssey" during his stay. The hotel also witnessed darker moments, such as the infamous murder of Nancy Spungen by her boyfriend, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols.

Decline and Gentrification

By the early 2000s, the Chelsea Hotel faced significant challenges as New York City underwent rapid gentrification. The hotel's management changed hands multiple times, leading to evictions and renovations that threatened to erase its bohemian legacy. Ferrara's documentary captures this transitional period, providing a glimpse into the lives of the remaining residents who fought to preserve the hotel's unique character.

Press and Media Coverage

Initial Release and Reception

The release of "Chelsea on the Rocks" garnered considerable media attention, particularly due to Ferrara's reputation and the subject matter's intrinsic appeal. The film's premiere at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival brought it to the forefront of international cinema, attracting both praise and scrutiny from critics and audiences alike.

Ongoing Coverage

Over the years, the Chelsea Hotel and Ferrara's documentary have continued to receive media coverage, especially in the context of discussions about urban development and the preservation of cultural landmarks. Articles and reviews in major publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Variety have kept the film and its subject matter relevant, highlighting the ongoing struggle between historical preservation and modernization.

Audience and Cultural Significance

Target Audience

"Chelsea on the Rocks" appeals to a diverse audience, including fans of documentary cinema, art and music enthusiasts, and those with an interest in New York City's cultural history. The film's eclectic cast and Ferrara's distinctive directorial style draw viewers who appreciate unconventional storytelling and candid portrayals of real-life subjects.

Cultural Impact

The documentary underscores the cultural and social significance of the Chelsea Hotel as a bastion of artistic expression. By chronicling the lives of its residents and the hotel's storied past, Ferrara's film serves as a time capsule, preserving the essence of an era that shaped New York City's identity. The Chelsea Hotel's legacy continues to inspire artists and filmmakers, symbolizing the enduring spirit of creativity in the face of change.

Detailed Insights and Specifics

Personal Stories and Anecdotes

One of the most compelling aspects of "Chelsea on the Rocks" is the inclusion of personal stories and anecdotes from the hotel's residents. These narratives provide a window into the daily lives of those who called the Chelsea home, revealing both the glamour and grit of their existence. Interviews with figures like Ethan Hawke and Milos Forman offer unique perspectives on the hotel's impact on their creative processes.

Re-enactments and Archival Footage

While some critics questioned the effectiveness of the re-enactments, they nonetheless add a dramatic flair to the documentary. Scenes depicting the lives and tragic ends of figures like Janis Joplin and Sid Vicious bring the hotel's history to life, albeit with a touch of theatricality. The archival footage, on the other hand, grounds the film in reality, showcasing moments from the hotel's past that shaped its legendary status.

Themes of Change and Resilience

A central theme in "Chelsea on the Rocks" is the tension between change and resilience. As the documentary unfolds, viewers witness the hotel's transformation from a sanctuary for artists to a commercialized entity under new management. This narrative reflects broader trends in urban development, where cultural landmarks are often sacrificed for economic gain. The resilience of the remaining tenants, who fight to preserve the hotel's artistic legacy, serves as a testament to the enduring power of community and creativity.


"Chelsea on the Rocks" is more than just a documentary about a hotel; it is a tribute to the spirit of artistic expression that defined an era in New York City. Abel Ferrara's film captures the essence of the Chelsea Hotel, weaving together personal stories, historical context, and cultural significance to create a compelling narrative. Despite the challenges of gentrification and modernization, the legacy of the Chelsea Hotel lives on, inspiring future generations of artists and dreamers. For those interested in the intersection of history, art, and urban development, "Chelsea on the Rocks" offers a poignant and thought-provoking exploration of one of New York City's most iconic landmarks.