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« Soundtracking: Moulin Rouge! | Main | The New Classics - Happy-Go-Lucky »
Tuesday
Jun042019

Pride Month Doc Corner: 'Halston'

By Glenn Dunks

Once again, The Film Experience and Doc Corner is celebrating Pride Month with a focus on documentaries that tackle LGBTIQ themes. This week is Halston, a fashion bio-doc about the famed American designer.

He was arguably the most famous out homosexual in America; feted by magazines and talk-shows, lauded in name by celebrities from coast to coast. A man of a certain time who emerged timeless; a pillar of an industry that had remained strikingly insular until his brand helped bring it to the American masses. Roy Halston Frowick left his impressionable mark on history early on, designing First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s iconic pillbox hat and translated that mark of destiny through a career that weaved down runways, across discotheques and into department stores.

His life is given an appropriately razzle-dazzle treatment in Halston from director Frédérick Tcheng. Told through the unusual narrative device of a fictional, unknown woman researching his life through video tapes, Halston is one of the more formally interesting examples of the fashion bio-doc genre and is infused with an atmosphere that is as slinky as one of his bias-cut dresses while also embracing his extravagant Manhattan lifestyle of chic glass offices, limousines and cocaine that evoke an era of lavish and queer excess.

What makes Halston’s story one of particular interest is in the way his ideals of wishing to dress every woman in America butt up against the living-beyond-his-means lifestyle and the way his career ambitions weren’t just torpedoed but how his achievements were seemingly erased from the world by a corporate take-over that took his name along with his business. It’s a story that automatically makes for a more compelling film than many of the more simple career history documentary that most of his contemporaries and those who followed in his footsteps have received (including the very disappointing Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston) and several passages are as thrilling as they are haute couture.

Halston himself is an appropriate subject then for Tcheng whose prior films Dior and I and Diana Vreeland: The Eye has to Travel (the latter of which he co-directed with Lisa Immordino Vreeland and Bent-Jorgen Permutt) are some of the more entertaining fashion documentaries amid the spate of them that emerged in the last decade and a half (Tcheng also edited Valentino: The Last Emperor).

Although, any film such as this can’t help but pale in comparison to something like last year’s McQueen, it’s high-gloss gossipy feel has an entertainment all its own that is only enhanced by the awe-inspiring beauty of his designs of silk and satin. Halston is probably as indulgent as Halston himself, but throughout its dizzying montages and talking head interviews with the likes of Liza Minnelli, Marisa Berenson, Pat Cleveland and even Joel Schumacher as well as numerous family members and designers like Naeem Khan, it’s not hard to understand why.


It’s not really until its closing moments, however, that Tcheng gets to something beneath the glitz. His family who remain distant throughout his international ascension becomes a prominent feature and the ideas of legacy and ego take centre stage. Probably too late in the proceedings to have a lasting emotional impact, but in the case of a film that takes so much pleasure in his decadence – and delightfully so, I admit; this is a treasure trove of archival footage that fashion-lovers will be in wide-eyed wonder of – these final scenes of Halston in his most humble and innocent offer something of a sobering tonic that helps underline his achievements and reaffirm his story as one of not just glitter and chiffon.

Release: Out now in limited release and adding a few additional screens this week before making its way around the country.

Oscar chances: If they didn't swing for McQueen, I doubt they'll go for this one. The documentary branch isn't that frisky.

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Reader Comments (2)

On my watchlist since the moment I read about it.

McQueen was so beautiful. We failed at campaigning for that one.

June 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

On my TO SEE list.

June 5, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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