Hotel Monterey

Hotel Monterey ★★★★½

Hôtel Monterey is a sixty minute silent documentary comprised of shots inside a hotel in New York, that progress from the ground floor in the beginning, to the roof at the end, and with it Ackerman manages to successfully engage both my love of hotels and my fear of old photographs, a tricky prospect indeed.

First, the hotels. More often than not they have been my favorite parts of vacations I have taken. The sense of anonymity, of potential rebirth, and the lack of a need for responsibility has always afforded me much greater comfort than the quality of the night's sleep, even though getting lost in a King-sized bed full of what seems like a thousand pillows brushing up against my skin with the a/c blasting does rate a close second.

And the old-time photographs? There is just something about looking at a picture of someone who has been long since deceased, or is no longer anything like what I am seeing anymore. It's the permanence that gets me. That unchanging, unforgiving, uncaring notion that there is no going back, like being stuck in a room with a rabid dog or someone who is criminally insane, whether or not you make it out alive is for the most part already determined. Even the photo paper itself, yellowing with antiquity, is on an unchangeable course heading towards oblivion, and with it any memory of the individual who probably touched many other lives, for better or worse.

Many of the people captured in Hôtel Monterey are probably not alive anymore. But they are preserved here forever, completely nondescript, going about their business, occasionally wondering what Ackerman's camera is doing in the middle of the elevator or lobby. Why were they there? Like old photographs, their histories that I'll never discover are already written. I read that the hotel was on the lower side of quality, not that that should make a difference, but it explains the drabness captured in her long push-ins down endless hallways. There's even something ominous in that, a notion that nothing has been preened for the camera; we're not watching hotel propaganda or an advertisement.

It's easy to watch something like this and wonder what the point of it is. I did for the first ten minutes, until I just started allowing myself to get lost in the potential of every vacant hallway, and every opening and closing elevator door. Hôtel Monterey is an obvious precursor to Ackerman's La-Bas, a film of various static shots from insider the director's Tel-Aviv apartment. Ackerman is a master at redefining space, and challenging the viewer to find a context for the things she chooses to show. To that extent both films are intensely authored, yet for Hôtel Monterey there is at least a sense of progression, even though you don't realize it until the end when you're up on the roof, and the 360 degree images of an overcast New York surprisingly do not inspire feelings of joy. I wanted to go back downstairs. I wanted to live vicariously through the hotel's many customers, and I wanted to be further unnerved at not knowing anything about them or what they were saying.

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