Chelsea Walls / Tape Review

This DVD contains two films (Tape and Chelsea Walls) on one disc. I've already reviewed Tape here so I shall only review Chelsea Walls but will include Tape when talking about the sound and the video

In the corridors and rooms of New York's Chelsea Hotel, the camera follows the disjointed lives of writers, singers, musicians, painters and a washed out beat poet as they try to comprehend what life is all about and what their purpose is in it. Yep, that's about as far as it goes plot-wise!

Having spent years acting in many decent indie films and with a burgeoning writing career, Ethan Hawke decided to add another string to his bow by going behind the camera. Sadly Hawke seems to have taken the worse parts of Linklater's work and taken it to a rather unpleasant extreme. Though the plot is multi-stranded, this is no Altman flick - Hawke never manages to give any character enough depth for you to care about them more than a split-second. In fact, he seems to go to great lengths to develop them as little as possible by padding the film's already unbearable length with musical interludes narrowing down most characters screen time to less than 15 minutes. The music however is in fact rather good as Hawke had the brilliant idea of drafting Wilco's Jeff Tweedy to write most of the songs featured in the movie (Wilco fans will be delighted to hear the sublime and rare When the Roses Bloom Again) and Robert Sean Leonard does a rather good job of singing them with his acoustic guitar.

The acting on the other hand is rather difficult to gauge - Kristofferson who usually plays effortlessly in so many films seems to be trying too hard, Steven Zahn is atrocious as the confused slacker but Thurman saves the day by convincingly pulling off her role as an insecure waitress. The grainy stock used (the film was shot on DV then "roughened" with a transfer to 35mm) does make the film look better than a surreal home movie with the cinematography drawing extensively from both the Dogma and the Linklater style, but most of the more artistic shots fail miserably (like shooting a couple with relationship difficulties in the reflexion of a broken mirror which comes through as far too clumsy and obvious). Despite all of this, the film does manage to occasionally shine and be slightly daring - having a character cropping up every so often to shout out complete Dylan Thomas poems is a rather risky route to take. If it does work, it will still be seen as pretentious by some - if it doesn't, well God help you! Maybe Hawke will manage to take the more promising aspects of this film and manage to make a better rounded follow-up - he'll certainly need a much more substantial screenplay. For the potential viewer, my sole advice is buy the soundtrack but skip the movie.

The image:Tape:The review disc on hand has a major defect for Tape - they made a mistake with the transfer, so instead of getting an anamorphic transfer we get a stretched version of the film in 4:3 - a rather dire mistake but maybe this will have been solved for the final release. Widescreen TV owners can however force the image to be stretched but those who don't own this type of TV are in a bit of a pickle and makes the film unwatchable. The image quality of Tape also seems to be inferior to that of the original release (it was a bit difficult to be certain of that due to the image format problem) probably due to the decreased bitrate. Artifacting is much more visible and DV digitalisation seems to be excessively obvious.

Chelsea Walls:Chelsea Walls doesn't however get an anamorphic transfer but is in the correct aspect ratio of 1.75:1. Artifacting is quite obvious in many of the backgrounds and the overall definition seems rather blurry (though that may be due in part to the DV). It's also hard to be certain if the colours aren't too harsh as they seem to have been computer enhanced to such an extent that some characters faces are almost red, whilst other verge on being blue - I think it's pretty safe to assume it was intended by the director though. That said it does look rather rough and grainy and doesn't really make for pleasant viewing.

Cramming two films onto one disc seems to be a grave mistake given that the total running time is knocking on just shy of 200 mins and I think that the video quality has suffered quite noticeably from the excessive compression rates.

The sound:Tape:This is simple stereo but with no soundtrack to showcase it and little stereo effects, it's hard to notice a difference from mono. Good enough though and performs the task well enough.

Chelsea Walls:We get the original stereo mix which gives a fair amount of spatial effects and works pretty effectively.

The MenusVery basic with some music playing in the background - the person who designed them seems to think that Christopher Walken appear in Chelsea Walls - I know he does an awful lot of dreadful movies but this wasn't one of them!

The extras:Nope - nothing at all.

Conclusions:Given that Metrodome has entered receivership, this seems to be an exercise in recouping some of the investor's money by flogging their catalogue at a rate of two films per disc. Not really a good idea as the image quality deteriorates as a consequence and makes this seem more like a budget video release rather than a professional DVD. As for the films, the one worth watching is made unwatchable (see the video part) and the correctly transferred film is pretty dire. Until I have a confirmation that this error has been resolved, you're best steering well clear of this release unless you're a Ethan Hawke completist...

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