Female Filmmaker Friday: Hôtel Monterey, 1972 (dir. Chantal Akerman)
Last summer I bought Chantal Akerman in the 1970s from Criterion and I’ve been slowly watching my way through it. La Chambre, Hôtel Monterey and News From Home (which I will also write about soon), are all very interesting films, that I believe lie somewhere between “documentary” and “experimental.” They were all made while Akerman was living in NYC “like a vagabond” – her words. She was 21 and interested in art and life and from these films we see just what aspects of life intrigued her at the time.
Really, I’m just going to say a few things about this film and then let the pictures speak for themselves. The titular hotel is one of those seedy hotels that probably were never all that classy to begin with. Akerman films the hotel – with beautifully sweeping shots – from the lobby, to the minutiae of the rooms, the elevator and even the rooftop view. Occasionally, residents of the hotel show up in shots, but they look more like ghosts than they do actual living people. The film is 65 minutes long and has no soundtrack. When I first watched it, I got through about twenty minutes silently and then couldn’t take it anymore. I put on the Elevator to the Gallows score by Miles Davis and it made for a really creepy experience.
Here’s a resident reflected in a mirror in the lobby. Look at the great wallpaper!
Look at this lady! Is she on vacation? Does she live her? She’s got style, that’s for sure.
I am sort of in love with this bedroom. I wonder how often that funky bed spread is washed though? Another creepy thing about this film is, while you see guests occasionally, you never see staff. Is there a staff? I don’t know.
A bow-tied gentleman in a chair. So quiet and so dignified, yet he’s living in this shit hole.
I love that Akerman includes shots of the bathroom. Look at the grout! But yet, there’s something romantic and wistful about this bathroom. Maybe that’s just me.
Akerman shot the film I think solely at night and because of that we get a lot of these amazingly lit scenes. She plays with shadows and light and creates an incredibly spooky atmosphere. But also one of pure beauty.
One of my favorite parts of the film is when she sticks the camera in an elevator for a long stretch. As the elevator goes up and down, we see the lighting inside change. We get glimpses of other floors. We see guests occasionally. But, like that whole film, we can’t hear anything they’re saying.
Eventually, Akerman moves out to the rooftop of the hotel, panning its entirety. It’s a beautiful dawn, with interesting juxtaposition between the water and the trees and the decrepit brick buildings that make up the skyline.
You can see that city waking up just as the film ends, as if the hotel is a nocturnal being that does not exist during the day.