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David Porter » Articles at Suite 101 » Hotels in the Arts: Special Places in Film, Music and Literature

Hotels in the Arts: Special Places in Film, Music and Literature

The Chelsea Hotel: Inspired Dylan, Cohen & Others - NikkO
Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” and The Eagles’ “Hotel California” are not the only hotels, real and imagined, that have played a major part in great arts.

Hotel businesses market themselves on historical events or people, celebrity connections, geographical/movie locations to develop customer bases. Lucy Komisar, in The Travel Lady said: “no longer just places to sleep and shower, hotels are now environments for experience.”

She reckoned in Paris, for example, the left bank Bel Ami (utilising Guy de Maupassant’s 1885 novel) and for art links, the right bank Hilton Arc de Triomphe, should be visited. Such boutique hotels sit alongside guest houses, inns, pubs, clubs and restaurants the world over, exploiting all connections to boost trade.

Hotels in Literature

Hotels are perfect settings for creativity. Hedwig Baum’s novel Grand Hotel (1929; movie 1932) was set in Berlin’s finest hotel about thieves and guests; John Betjeman’s 1937 mock ballad poem The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel recounted Wilde’s arrest for indecency, and Peter S Beagle’s The Innkeeper’s Song (1993) was a sci-fi fantasy set in an inn called The Gaff and Slasher.

Magill’s Literary Annual described how Mark Rudman’s 1996 poem The Millennium Hotel used a lower Manhattan hotel “to suggest stopping places and temporary residences which characterize life at the end of the 20th century. The hotel and related images (other hotels, casinos, sleepaway camps, and apartments) create the sequence of settings for interlocking poems that segue one into another and make the framework depicting the poet’s life and consciousness.”

John le Carre’s 1993 thriller The Night Manager centres on a hotel in a plot described by Magill Book Reviews as “adventure, romance, and moral ambiguity intertwined.” Monkswell Manor Guest House featured in Agatha Christie’s 1954 play The Mousetrap. William Trevor Cox’s 1981 Beyond the Pale saw four English bridge players annually holidaying in a lodge in County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

Dark Avenues (1943) by Ivan Bunin introduced a mysterious innkeeper “who resembled a gypsy.” The Bass Saxophone (1967) by Josef Škvorecký, set in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, concerned a concert in and around a hotel ballroom. Graham Greene’s tragicomedy The Comedians (1966), set in Haiti, featured Port-au-Prince’s Hotel Trianon.

The Oranging of America (1974) was a historical satire depicting Howard Johnson’s 40-year journey around America visiting his motels and restaurants. A motel room appears in America Hurrah, a 1967 allegorical play by Jean-Claude Van Itallie; Acceptance of Their Ways (1960) by Mavis de Trafford Young is partly set in a pensione on the Italian Riviera and Thomas Mann’s 1954 novel Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man included the role of hotel waiter and thief.

Hotels in Movies

Hotels are often made into films. Fantasy horror The Shining by Stephen King (1977) was set in the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado mountains where the central character (chillingly played by Jack Nicholson in the 1980 movie) was the caretaker. Another well-remembered horror moment was the shower murder in the Bates Motel. There are now Bates hotels/motels and scary theme park rides, but the original from Hitchcock’s 1960 psychological thriller Psycho is on Universal Studios’, Californian movie lot.

Hotel Rwanda (2004), Academy award-winning movie, featured the hotel manager saving lives in war-torn Rwanda; Hotel Paraiso (2001) was a Dutch movie about a family seaside resort in Portugal; Irving Berlin’s song classic song “White Christmas” began life in the much-praised Holiday Inn (1942). There was Ingrid Bergman’s 1956’s The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. Hôtel Terminus (1988) is a documentary about Klaus Barbie, the Gestapo police chief of Lyon, France.

Whether plots require hotels or not, they are loved by film directors. Los Angeles hotels market themselves on movie tourism. Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel was in Catch Me If You Can (2002), Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003), Mighty Joe Young (1998), Internal Affairs (1990) and Beverly Hills Cop II (1987).

The Biltmore Hotel has hosted TV’s Nip/Tuck, 24 and Dirty Sexy Money, Ghost Busters (1984), Wedding Crashers (2005), Rumor Has It (2005), Criminal (2004), Daredevil (2004), House of Sand and Fog (2003), Cruel Intentions (1999), Independence Day (1996), The Bodyguard (1992), Pretty in Pink (1986), Splash (1984), Rocky III (1982) and The Sting (1973). The Westin Bonaventure Hotel provided perfect decor for Strange Days (1995), True Lies (1994), Wonderland (2003), Heat (1995), Lethal Weapon 2 (1989), Rain Man (1988), Blue Thunder (1983) and In the Line of Fire (1993).

Beverly Hills Hotel and Bungalows showcased in Anywhere But Here (1999), Beverly Hills Cop (parts 1 and 2, 1984 and 1987 respectively) and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). The art deco Sunset Tower Hotel on Sunset Strip was featured in The Player (1992), Get Shorty (1995) and 2003’s The Italian Job.

The Chelsea Hotel: A Unique Place

At 222 West 23rd Street, New York City, NY sits the iconic Chelsea Hotel, beloved of artists, poets, singers and songwriters for decades, notorious for riotous, sometimes drug-fuelled binges and the first to be listed as a NYC cultural preservation site and historic building of note.

Built in 1883 as a private housing cooperative, Chelsea Hotel opened in 1905 and has been a center of artistic/bohemian activity since. Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Ryan Adams, Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Thomas Wolfe, Eugene O’Neil, Arthur C Clarke (who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there), Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, William Burroughs, Jasper Johns, Patti Smith, Larry Rivers, Virgil Thompson, Willem de Kooning, Quentin Crisp and Arthur Miller were among writers and singers who resided and were influenced by it. Dylan Thomas died of alcohol poisoning there in 1953 and Sid Vicious of British punk group The Sex Pistols may have stabbed his girlfriend to death there in 1978.

No single place has played such an inspirational role in so much 20th century high and fictional drama, songs and literature. Taken globally, hotels may prove the most useful buildings in the cultural landscape.

First published on Suite 101, 10 November 2010.

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Photo: The Chelsea Hotel: Inspired Dylan, Cohen & Others – NikkO



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