I am in danger of slipping into grandma-esque ‘they don’t make them like they used to’ nostalgia here. Not that my own grandmother has ever said anything like ‘they don’t make them like they used to’ in her life; she’s pretty modern, unlike her second-eldest grandchild.
Anyway, a little while ago – as I do – I was looking up The Hotel Chelsea on Youtube. I came upon a 1981 BBC Arena documentary about my spiritual home. It’s very BBC and early 80s – it doesn’t tally with my own memories of the Chelsea at all – but it’s fabulous. To me, it seems kind of sanitised, but perhaps it just captures a bygone era that I missed. It was, after all, made in the year that I was born. It’s still utterly brilliant – featuring Quentin Crisp, and a hilarious lunch involving Andy Warhol and William Burroughs in the style of a nature documentary.
So, this made me notice that there were a lot of Arena documentaries on Youtube, and I started watching the lot. They are, without exception, brilliant television. I suggest you watch them all. I’ve been watching episodes on such varied and interesting subjects as Joe Orton, Poly Styrene and Cindy Sherman. I also accidentally watched one on Pete Doherty, and even that was good TV. After all, Werner Herzog called the Arena series “the oasis in the sea of insanity that is television”.
(I should probably also mention that, in general, I don’t approve of people assuming they should have free access to content [watching whole programmes on Youtube, etc.]. But I pay my licence fee – now I actually have a television – and I don’t think there’s a way of being able to pay to watch these, so I don’t see that there’s a problem.)
On a less boring note, I shall leave you with my favourite moment from the Chelsea documentary, which occurs in the pyramid on the roof…