Chelsea Girls (1966)

Shocked? Offended? Intrigued? Did it take you a few seconds to realize what the open door was supposed to represent? Me too, on all accounts.

Andy Warhol, whose artistic aesthetic can sometimes push my buttons, is responsible for this conversation starter. I came across this poster while researching Chelsea Hotel, a literary and musical landmark in New York City, which reportedly housed hundreds of writers and artists over the years, including creative superstars like Bob Dylan and Stanley Kubrick. At first I was startled, then confused. The picture was a little grainy, so I leaned closer to the computer screen.

Once I registered the implications of this image, I looked up the film, past reviews, and watched a few scenes online. My opinion of Warhol’s work stems from only one exhibit and a handful of documentaries so I had absolutely no background on the production or context of Chelsea Girls.

Roger Ebert, always pithy and observant, reviewed Warhol’s voyeuristic romp in 1967:

…what we have here is 3½ hours of split-screen improvisation poorly photographed, hardly edited at all, employing perversion and sensation like chili sauce to disguise the aroma of the meal. Warhol has nothing to say and no technique to say it with. He simply wants to make movies, and he does: hours and hours of them.

If you feel compelled to watch all three (plus) hours of Chelsea Girls, the entire film can be found on YouTube.

However, it’s the poster that caught my attention. Warhol, whose “portfolio” irks me in ways I can’t properly explain, rarely draws me in long enough to catch and hold my attention. Yes, I can enjoy the Marilyn Monroe print as much as the next person but, beyond the surface of bright colour and popular culture, I just can’t sink my teeth into his message. Perhaps it’s his fascination with all things industrial and robotic, the inhuman side of humanity… I’m not sure. Or, maybe, just like the dark, cavernous doorway illustrated in this poster, his work feels hollow too.

The Chelsea Girls poster invites us – anyone, really, who is willing and able – to “enter” Warhol’s world. And it is this invitation, and the form with which it has been executed, that I’m perplexed by. It seems that, even now, nearly 46 years later, we are still investigating the implications of female openness, a strange and historically unknown but immediately accessible sexuality.

The blog Stale Popcorn counted Chelsea Girls in its 100 Greatest Movie Posters countdown.

What is there to be said about this Alan Aldridge design for the poster for the Morrissey/Warhol film Chelsea Girls? There’s really not much that can be said, is there? This piece of art just… is. A stunning piece of bravura that you either love or you don’t. If you can’t see what’s so great about this piece of design by simply looking at it then nothing I, nor anyone else, can say is going to change your opinion.

I would have to agree with Stale Popcorn that the Chelsea Girls poster is indeed a “stunning piece of bravura” but I haven’t yet decided what that statement means to me.

What’s the verdict? Do you love it or hate it?

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