Movie: The First Monday in May
My Rating: 4 stars
I like fashion documentaries. Fashion designers are such ridiculous creatures. They don’t talk or even think like humans. They remind me of wood elves or sprites—scampering about with billowing sheets of sheer fabrics trailing behind them. Just take a look at John Galliano. He’s a magical man. Plus, you’re all pretty much aware by now that I do a lot of things just so that I can interact with fun clothes. I’m always looking for an excuse to don a costume. And, I’ll watch movies I have only a passing interest in if it’ll mean getting a gander and some fabulous dresses (Marie Antoinette anyone?). So, this documentary was great. It’s about a few fashion experts, Andrew Bolton and Anna Wintour, digging through the archives at the Costume Institute at the New York Met, and fussing over which dresses are the most beautiful.
The documentary is really about the preparations for the 2015 Met Gala. The theme of the exhibition that year was “China: Through the Looking Glass.” So, we get to watch our fashion experts scouring the costume archives to find examples through history of how fashion designs were inspired by portrayals of China in Hollywood films. It’s a great framing mechanism. The theme is narrow enough to set our curators off in the right direction, but broad enough to really fill out a full show. And, they really did come up with some stunning examples of historic couture. The rest of the film is seeing out same experts freaking out about how this party they’re planning really isn’t coming together quite as quickly or cheaply as they’d hoped. And, a minor meltdown always adds a bit of drama to a story.
Of course, you can’t mention that anything has been inspired by another nation without the cultural and political gatekeepers jumping in and telling us why we are bad for liking any kind of fusion of traditions. And, right on cue, the critics show up and start in on their spiels. But, I think they’re missing the point somewhat. The show is about history, and celebrating beauty. We can celebrate these fantastic creations, and acknowledge their place in history at the same time. In fact, I think that acknowledging that place in history may even help people to understand what may be right or wrong about the way cultures have interacted in the past. Ignoring sensitive subjects has never made them go away. And suppressing art just to make a political point has never been the answer. Plus, I think that cultural blending is what growing and learning is all about. And, that’s about as political as I want to get today. Because really, I just want to think about all that billowing fabric again.
I liked this documentary very much. It had everything I was looking for from a fashion documentary. It benefitted from being a sampler of sorts. By focusing on a theme rather than one particular designer, it gives viewers a taste of many different ideas and aesthetics, and doesn’t get too bogged down in one specific artist’s personal issues. And the arc of preparing for and putting on a big show creates natural drama. This is the prefect thing to watch if you don’t really know what you’re in the mood for.