New Rose Hotel

(Abel Ferrara, USA, 1998)


In the history of popular film, there is a curious convergence between the figure of the femme fatale the bombshell who seduces for power and the threat of nuclear war (Kiss Me Deadly [1955] is a classic example). Is this just our culture’s overactive misogyny, or is the connection more revealing?


Laura Mulvey sees it as a modern repetition of the Pandora myth, triggering not only the negative associations of women with destructiveness, but more importantly the possibly liberating theme of female curiosity the heroine as investigator and troublemaker in a man’s world.


Mulvey and Ferrara share a passion for the key film in this tradition, Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946), of which New Rose Hotel is a particularly inspired and tortured remake. Once again, an operator in the criminal world (Willem Dafoe’s X) pushes his lover (Asia Argento’s Sandii) into an affair with a powerful man (Yoshitaka Amano’s Hiroshi).


Once again, a sinister, older figure (Christopher Walken’s Fox, a way, way out performance) pulls the strings. And once again our unlovely hero is wracked with projections arising from guilt and paranoia. But Sandii is a more provocative heroine than Ingrid Bergman, and her mysterious fate plunges New Rose Hotel into a vortex of poetic disintegration.


This is a film that, an hour in, seems to break down and restart, splutteringly; what was previously merely enigmatic rapidly becomes cosmically inscrutable.


Rarely has the auto-destruction of the cinematic apparatus been so thrilling as in New Rose Hotel. Alongside The Blackout (1997), it is Ferrara’s most openly experimental work.

MORE Ferrara: The Addiction, Bad Lieutenant, China Girl, Ms. 45, 'R Xmas, Pasolini, Mary, King of New York

© Adrian Martin June 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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