In her apartment located over a porn theatre, Chelly Wilson celebrated Christmas together with her family and many friends: "She held court like a mafia godmother," her grandson remembers. This immigrant from Greece had made it from a kiosk saleswoman to a successful businesswoman and was living the American dream. Short-tempered and imperious whilst also charming and generous, she knew many influential people. Little did even Chelly's youngest daughter know that the matriarch, whom everyone respected, was a Sephardic Jew from Thessaloniki whose real name was Rachel Serero and that she narrowly escaped the Holocaust. Director Valerie Kontakos uses newsreels, home video footage, animation sequences and testimonies from Chelly's daughters, grandchildren and friends to describe an eventful life. The documentary begins with images of a successful businesswoman and yet soon finds itself tracing the roots of a Sephardic Jew in the 20th century, one whose life and its path of arranged marriage, family hierarchies, the pursuit of freedom and autonomy, the obligations of motherhood and the effects of National Socialist persecution was anything but straightforward. Chelly Wilson successfully built a new extended family in Manhattan and yet also suffered from survivor syndrome. In the US she enjoyed her newfound freedoms, refused to allow herself to be patronised and shared her life with her husband and several lovers. Insights into a complex family history as well as the fascinating subculture of the erotic and porn film scene in New York City in the 1960s and 1970s. Chelly Wilson showed these in her theatres on 42nd Street, in the sinful yet vibrant neighborhood nicknamed “The Deuce”.
Text: Kira Taszman
English: Peter Rickerby