I was particularly anxious to see this movie because I am quite familiar with the setting. One chilly winter night many years ago, I bought a pair of gloves in a place called the New York Hat Shop, which was located on the Main Street side of the south block of the Rosslyn Hotel (it's actual name.) A number of years after that I went a number of times to a greasy spoon diner which was located on the Fifth Street side of the north building of the hotel. This was after I had not visited downtown Los Angeles for quite a while, and I don't know if I was more surprised at the amount of decay which had been suffered by the area in the intervening years, or by the fact that the Rosslyn was not even more decayed than it was. The south building had by then been taken over by the YWCA (and was probably in the worst location of any YWCA on earth,) but the north building had somehow managed to cling, just barely, to the shabbily genteel atmosphere it had maintained for as long as I had known it.
It had probably already reached that state when I was very young and would, as we approached the city, see the huge signs on its rooftop -- "New Million Dollar Hotel Rosslyn" -- which marked the eastern edge of the downtown skyline. The place was far from new even then, having been built in the years before the First World War, but for me it projected an air of glamor and excitement. It was Big, it was in two buildings of matching height (though not width) and it was, on those occasions when we passed it, bustling with activity. It was long after that when I first went into the building and saw the signs of its age, and I had since been introduced to the more lavish and more modern hotels farther west. But I retained a sentimental attachment to the Rosslyn. It was sad to see its busy Main Street neighborhood decline into a place both dangerous and deadly dull. Skid row though it already was when I first knew it, it was lively and interesting until the 1970's, and I always enjoyed walking through it.
The movie does capture the look of the hotel very well, though I doubt that its real-life denizens are quite as interesting as the characters in the movie. I have no doubt that they are as disturbing as their fictional counterparts, though. The Rosslyn became one of those places into which the state's welfare system dumped the damaged and distressed people on whom it had essentially given up. At the time I left Los Angeles, it was on its way to being something very like the hotel/character it plays in the movie, but much sadder. Oddly, the movie, despite its dark theme, made me feel rather happy. I suppose that's the result of Wender's strange sensibility. He always finds something to love in the most unexpected places. This time, it happened to be a place for which I already held some affection. It is a happy coincidence.