Chelsea Girls (1966)


(director/writer: Andy Warhol/Paul Morrissey; screenwriter: Ronald Tavel; cinematographer: Andy Warhol; music: The Velvet Underground; cast: Ondine (Pope), Mary Woronov (Hanoi Hannah), Eric Emerson (himself), Brigid Berlin (herself), Brigid Polk (herself/the Dutchess), Mario Montez (Transvestite), Dorothy Dean (herself), Gerald Malanga (son), Nico (herself), Marie Menken (Mother), Ingrid Superstar (herself), Rona Page (herself); Runtime: 197; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Andy Warhol; Raro Video-PAL; 1966)

I couldn’t be more bored with this flimsy anti-film presentation.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

I couldn’t be more bored with this flimsy anti-film presentation of Andy Warhol (“Vinyl”/”Blow Job”/”My Hustler”), the Pop Art self-promoting artist, if you will. Andy and his gang of oddballs work out of a former hat factory on Manhattan’s 47th Street and take a whack at making films in their so-called Underground style-presenting unpolished work as a personal expression. outside of the Hollywood system, and not caring about the censors. Chelsea Girls is a black and white film that concludes in color. It’s a long bummer at 3 1/2 hours. The non-edited and non-directed improv film is shot without a script, relying on the charisma of the Warhol non-actors to put it over. The pointless exercise is made up of 12 episodes, each a half hour, with no connecting storyline link. It’s also shot on a double screen, and unified by using 12 rooms from Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel (a place where apparently all the actors reside).

In the opening episode the ‘right screen’ has Nico in the kitchen, as the The Velvet Underground lead singer wants to cut her hair but Eric Emerson tells her not to. On the ‘left screen,’ the episode is entitled Pope Ondine and Ingrid, and the raving mad homosexual Pope of Greenwich Village elicits from LSD taker Ingrid Superstar a confession on her sexual activities.

Its lingering fame as an indie cult favorite is due to being historically known as the first Underground film to be recognized by commercial films and given reviews by the mainstream critics. Its importance to cinema history remains, even though when viewed today the film is dated and its radicalism seems questionable. The Warhol experimental film became a critical and commercial success despite the spaced-out actors being high on drugs and slurring their lines, and that images run side by side so you can’t watch both at the same time (also, only one sound track is played). Warhol’s method was to turn the camera on and let it run until the reel was completed. To call this method genius is to insult filmmakers who very well may be geniuses in putting an effort in their art. To favor this film is to already be convinced before viewing it that it’s radical and that there’s a need to give voice against establishment thinking any way you can.