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 film was shot in the summer and early autumn of 1966 in various rooms and locations inside the Hotel Chelsea. 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.
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 6½ 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.
The cast of the film is largely made up of persons playing themselves, and are credited as so:
Brigid Berlin as herself (The Duchess)
Nico as herself
Ondine as himself (Pope)
Ingrid Superstar as herself
Randy Bourscheidt as himself
Angela ‘Pepper’ Davis as herself
Christian Aaron Boulogne (Nico’s son) as himself (as Ari)
Mary Woronov as Hanoi Hannah
Ed Hood as himself
Ronna as herself
International Velvet as herself
Rona Page as herself
Albert Rene Richard as himself
Dorothy Dean as herself
Patrick Flemming as himself
Eric Emerson as himself
Donald Lyons as himself
Edie Sedgwick as herself (footage cut)
Gerard Malanga as Son
Marie Menken as Mother
Arthur Loeb as himself
Mario Montez as Transvestite
Chelsea Girls is largely unavailable for home video format. The film belongs to the Andy Warhol Foundation, and it, along with Warhol’s other films (apart from a handful of his screen tests, which have since been released on DVD) have never seen home video releases in the United States. In Europe, however, a handful of Warhol’s films were released on DVD, including a short-lived DVD print of Chelsea Girls which was available in Italy for some time. This Italian DVD print, which is the film’s only official home video release, was released on September 16, 2003.