Chelsea Girls is a 1966 experimental underground film directed by Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey. The film was Warhol's first major commercial success after a long line of avant-garde art films (both feature length and short). It was shot at the Hotel Chelsea and other locations in New York City, and follows the lives of several of the young women who live there, and stars many of Warhol's superstars. It is presented in a split screen, accompanied by alternating soundtracks attached to each scene and an alternation between black-and-white and color photography. The original cut runs at just over three hours long.
The title, Chelsea Girls, is a reference to the location in which the film takes place. It was the inspiration for star Nico's 1967 debut album, Chelsea Girl. The album featured a ballad-like track titled "Chelsea Girls", written about the hotel and its inhabitants who appear in the film. The girl in the poster is Clare Shenstone, at the age of 16, an aspiring artist who would later be influenced by Francis Bacon.
With its creativity and eroticism, the poster for the movie captures the sensual essence of the film. It was designed for the release of the movie in London by graphic artist Alan Aldridge. Warhol was extremely happy with the design and commented that he “wished the movie was as good as the poster”.
According to scriptwriter Ronald Tavel, Warhol first brought up the idea for the film in the back room of Max's Kansas City, Warhol's favorite nightspot, during the summer of 1966. In Ric Burns' documentary film Andy Warhol, Tavel recollected that Warhol took a napkin and drew a line down the middle and wrote 'B' and 'W' on opposite sides of the line; he then showed it to Tavel, explaining, "I want to make a movie that is a long movie, that is all black on one side and all white on the other." Warhol was referring to both the visual concept of the film, as well as the content of the scenes presented.
The film was shot in the summer and early autumn of 1966 in various rooms and locations inside the Hotel Chelsea, though contrary to the film's title, only poet René Ricard actually lived there at the time. Filming also took place at Warhol's studio The Factory. Appearing in the film were many of Warhol's regulars, including Nico, Brigid Berlin, Gerard Malanga, Mary Woronov as Hanoi Hannah, Ingrid Superstar, International Velvet and Eric Emerson. According to Burns' documentary, Warhol and his companions completed an average of one 33-minute segment per week.
Once principal photography wrapped, Warhol and co-director Paul Morrissey selected the twelve most striking vignettes they had filmed and then projected them side-by-side to create a visual juxtaposition of both contrasting images and divergent content (the so-called "white" or light and innocent aspects of life against the "black" or darker, more disturbing aspects.) As a result, the 6.5 hour running time was essentially cut in half, to 3 hours and 15 minutes. However, part of Warhol's concept for the film was that it would be unlike watching a regular movie, as the two projectors could never achieve exact synchronization from viewing to viewing; therefore, despite specific instructions of where individual sequences would be played during the running time, each viewing of the film would, in essence, be an entirely different experience.
Several of the sequences have gone on to attain a cult status, most notably the "Pope" sequence, featuring avant-garde actor and poet Robert Olivo, or Ondine as he called himself, as well as a segment featuring Mary Woronov entitled "Hanoi Hannah," one of two portions of the film scripted specifically by Tavel.
Notably missing is a sequence Warhol shot with his most popular superstar Edie Sedgwick which, according to Morrissey, Warhol excised from the final film at the insistence of Sedgwick herself, who claimed she was under contract to Bob Dylan's manager, Albert Grossman, at the time the film was made. Sedgwick's footage was used in another Warhol film, Afternoon.
Directed by Andy Warhol
Produced by Andy Warhol
Written by Ronald Tavel
Music by The Velvet Underground
Cinematography Andy Warhol
Paul Morrissey (uncredited)
September 15, 1966 (U.S.)
210 min. (approx.)
Country United States