Oct 18, 2009

On Stanley Bard @ Royal Flush Fest

By Evan Louison

As a cultural landmark, the Hotel Chelsea remains as much an enigma as ever before, despite repeated attempts in the mainstream to vilify or demonize it. Its many hedonistic and occasionally famous former residents, most of them long forgotten by those who have continued to inhabit it either for residency or work, seem to still haunt it. In turn, more recent attempts at lionization and pedestal placement have done little to illuminate most of the mystery behind what makes the place so site specific and original. Of these, Abel Ferrara’s Chelsea on the Rocks has been the most intentionally aimed at discovery and treasure hunting, although in an obscure and at times elusive sense, while Ethan Hawke’s Chelsea Walls stood as a newer, if faulty attempt at the type of historical fiction that Warhol & Morrissey once painted in minimal beauty. While Ferrara’s film portrayed the struggle between longtime residents of the Hotel with new management hell-bent on stripping the Hotel of any ties to the eccentric nature of its history, Stanley Bard, a new portrait both in the nominal sense and the literal, focuses solely on the Hotel’s longtime manager, his life, and memories.

As a film, Sam Bassett’s Stanley Bard merits equal parts praise and criticism. Questioning of an artist’s work and motives is unavoidable, and especially with Bassett, being someone who clearly identifies without hesitancy with such a title (and the inevitable responsibility that comes hand in hand with it). The rough sound and image quality, at times non-existent structure, editing that leaves a scattershot, possibly crazed and certainly frenetic feel, these are the marks of a creative mind working without regardless for the usual concerns of structural convention and audience comfort. While some may see these norms as a hindrance, formality and convention have there place. The picture, which Bassett referred to as “one of seven feature films completed in the last year,” is not a movie, not even really a documentary by any technical or traditional means. It is however a portrait, of a person and an idea of a place defined more by the ideas contained therein of the individuals who exist within it. Whether the ideas themselves are self-evident, or anymore valid than those of its detractors, the place itself remains self-reliant and justified to those who confirm themselves and the legitimacy of their lives with its concept.

If anything, the kinship between Bassett’s film and Ferrara’s film is glaring, the choppiness of both their styles or lack of style, the inherent weirdness of both seems to be their common ground, and perhaps exemplifies something in the place, something previously indescribable, something that just happens within its walls and the lives of those who pass through its doors. It is not always picture pretty, it is not by any means perfect or always interesting. In spite of the search for definition continuing, the one thing that is perfectly clear is that the place where Bob Dylan wrote “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” and where Samuel Clemens and Nikola Tesla once regularly lunched, while perfect in its flawed history, is no longer what it was, just as much of New York City appears to be. In this realization however belies the question, is there any reason why it should be? For Sam Bassett, and more importantly, for Stanley Bard, we must assume the answer is no, if not entirely unnecessary in the first place. The question and the answer for them both appears to be the work, the work, the work. And be it a series of portraits or a piece of masking tape stretched late at night across 23rd st, there may be little difference, if any. Either way, Bassett seems urgent and with endless enthusiasm determined to show off his creations, of both worlds, to anyone and everyone who will pay notice. For that, he is to be commended. And for the privilege and shelter such a setting provides for creativity, Stanley Bard is to be regarded fondly and lauded for years to come.