Chelsea Girls (1966)

 |  Drama  |  November 1968 (Denmark)
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Lacking a formal narrative, Warhol's art house classic follows various residents of the Chelsea Hotel in 1966 New York City, presented in a split screen with a single audio track in conjunction with one side of screen.

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Brigid Berlin ...
Herself - The Duchess (as Brigid Polk)
Randy Borscheidt ...
Christian Päffgen ...
Himself (as Ari)
Angelina 'Pepper' Davis ...
Dorothy Dean ...
Eric Emerson ...
Patrick Flemming ...
Ed Hood ...
Arthur Loeb ...
Donald Lyons ...
Gerard Malanga ...
Marie Menken ...
Mario Montez ...
Nico ...
Ondine ...
Himself - Pope


Lacking a formal narrative, Warhol's art house classic follows various residents of the Chelsea Hotel in 1966 New York City, presented in a split screen with a single audio track in conjunction with one side of screen.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




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Release Date:

November 1968 (Denmark)  »

Also Known As:

Chelsea-lányok  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Originally created as a six-hour film, Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey decided to screen the pieces of the film in pairs. Projectionists were allowed to choose how to combine the films and which sound tracks to run or turn off. See more »


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Featured in Nico Icon (1995) See more »

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User Reviews

22 September 2007 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

There's two film experiences this year that standout as arresting for me in the way that they changed my perception of cinema. One was Bela Tarr's masterwork, The Man From London. Tarr uses settings as powerful players, almost like characters. It challenged the way I approached watching film, the visual experience. The other evening I went to a special showing of Andy Warhol's Chelsea Girls. This is not a film one could call 'polished' in any sense of the word. But it opened up so many ideas in my head. I felt as if I had had a three-hour masterclass in the techniques of film, particularly the ways film is manipulated to alter what goes on in the minds of the viewer.

I'll try to tell you why I found it so mesmerising. Then you can decide for yourself whether to watch it.

The screening was sold out. I should explain that the cinema had borrowed the rare print from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. They installed two 16mm projectors side by side. The film comes as 12 separate reels – it's a sort of soap opera of the lives of some of Warhol's people that lived at the Chelsea Hotel in the 60's. Although the running order has now become more or less accepted, the original instructions were that the projectionist should choose the sequence and the sound levels for each. Additionally, two projectors are used simultaneously, projecting different reels on opposite sides of the screen.

The effect is a bit like being at a party where you can choose which conversation to tune in to. But sometimes you are just left with one person for a few minutes. You can almost ignore one section for a bit. But then, when something interesting happens, you already have the background gossip on it that you've followed with one ear. Your tangential interest has been aroused. When people hear the film described, the think, "How can you follow two things at once?" But this is what we do all the time. Every minute of our lives. We just alter the emphasis.

There's not much in the way of narrative. But we develop our own kind of narrative as we link up individuals from different reels. Often they are shown in a different light – sometimes literally. Everyone, as in many of Warhol's films, plays themselves – or rather a dramatised persona of themselves. An attractive vamp from one black-and-white reel turns out to be a quick-witted transgendered woman when we hear her with the sound turned up in another. Both reels are in black and white but with different co-actors. When we see her in a third reel, in colour, some of the mystery that black-and-white lent has drained away. She seems more human and less mysterious. We make our internal narrative, choosing which reel is a 'flashback.' Which is the 'true' person. I think of how the classic 'vamp' is portrayed in movies, the fetishisation of femininity. And how unconscious we are of cinematic technique.

Frequently camera also makes self-conscious zooms. Almost as if the cameraman had noticed, "Oh look, isn't THAT interesting!" Was it interesting before, or is it interesting because we have seen it through the eyes of someone who sees what is fascinating about it? They are insignificant details. Yet, when we focus on them, they seem to encapsulate the mood of the scene, or reveal something new about what is happening. At other times, the camera just seems to fidget. We become aware of it as a 'character' (a bit like Bela Tarr's cityscapes).

This probably comes easier if you can see why (Warhol's) screenprints and sculptures are interesting, have endured, and been so influential. Anyone can call a painting of a soup-can trite. Fewer can explain why Warhol's 'soup cans' sold for so much money - or are still taken very seriously by art establishments. If you can find the essence of something that everyone likes but takes for granted. We look at things without seeing them. So if you can make people stop. And really look. Really see. Suddenly you've shown them something about themselves. It wasn't really anything about soup or depicting Marilyn Monroe's head in garish colours. "They see all of me but they don't see anything," intones a drug-crazed young man into a flexible mirror. His self-absorption reminds me of how I am compositing each character from their different 'reels'.

Of course, we also know this movie was banned. Is that shocking enough to keep you in your seat for three hours? Without graphic violence, graphic sex or the usual commercial chicanery? Probably not. If you're new to Warhol's art you might want to get hold of a primer first (I recommend 'The Philosophy of Andy Warhol' available in Penguin: it doesn't 'explain' Warhol but it can help you get inside his head.) If you see this film looking for all the things he's refusing to give you then you probably won't get much out of it.

Of course, if this were a real soap opera, scenes of mild bondage, catfights, sexual confessions and so on would be 'dramatised' to make them larger than life. Chelsea Girls doesn't have to go to such lengths. It already is 'real life'. Weird people, druggie drop-outs and the sort of folk that probably 'infested' Times Square before the big clean up. But their interesting essences are distilled by a great artist – yet just not in the way you might expect.

I got the feeling at times that you could have given Andy Warhol a camera that came free with the cornflakes and he would have made great art with it.

(This is a greatly shortened version of something I wrote for Eyeforfilm)

7 of 8 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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