The exclusively interior scenes of Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey’s Chelsea Girls largely take place, shot by Warhol, inside apartments in the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. Its cast members, consisting of friends and acquaintances of Warhol, play themselves, improvising along the episodic route of Warhol’s script. The original version ran 6½ hours, but a second version cut this length in half by splitting the screen and running two titled episodes simultaneously. The result, occasionally lame, is much more often brilliant.
One paired episode is always mute; sometimes both are silent. Zooms startle the one with a fixed camera; on the other side, the camera may be intensely moving about. Earlier on, both screen halves are in black and white, but one may be relatively dark in complexion while the other is relatively light. (Changes occur in both actual lighting and exposure levels.) Later on, color is introduced to one side of the split screen and then both sides.
Sometimes it appears, quite by accident, that human images on both sides of the dividing line merge, like pieces of glass in an Italian kaleidoscope; sometimes sound seems to correspond to the drama on the other side of the dividing line as well. “Stand up!” someone screams here, and there, on the other side, the camera drops, giving a seated person the appearance of rising up. Although such visual and aural connections between left screen and right screen catch us by surprise, after a while we also look forward to them; we imaginatively try integrating the two screens. However, for mental focus, we also try keeping the screens separate and distinct. Each is dominated by someone who is quite a character.
We eventually feel we are watching our mind processing this miraculous film.
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