SHOULD I SEE IT?
Fans of fashion documentaries, quickly emerging as a prolific sub-category of mainstream documentary filmmaking, will find plenty to be interested in here.
There seems to never be enough stories to tell from the 1970s, and Halston’s rise to fame is definitely a worthy glimpse to the period of “no rules” fashion innovation.
Analyzes how fame and power can change a person.
The framing device really distracts and those who want to see a documentary as groundbreaking as Halston’s work, may find Halston, the movie, too conventional for their tastes.
Cynical folks may tire of another documentary about another famous person struggling with notoriety.
Obviously, if the fashion industry does not interest you, Halston may not register a blip on your personal movie radar.
Though the framing device for the film is a source of frustration, the CNN Films-backed documentary on the life of fashion design icon, Halston (born Roy Halston Frowick in April 1932) is a meticulously crafted look at a trailblazer in his industry who burned out way to soon.
A man who in many ways redefined 1970s American fashion, Halston succumbed to complications from the AIDS virus in 1990. His legacy, largely built in the 1970s took a hit and suffered some personal and professional hardship in the 1980s. Director Frédéric Tcheng uses the conventional approach for much of his film’s narrative, bringing in friends and colleagues to share stories about their experiences working and connecting with the larger-than-life personality, who seemed to trust too easily and imbibe a bit recklessly in the luxuries of his fame and celebrity.
The unconventional elements of the film come in how Tcheng frames his documentary. Actress Tavi Gevinson plays a “reporter” who unearths a number of documents, videos, and related material in an attempt to understand just who Halston really was. This approach doesn’t work and grinds the film to a halt whenever Tcheng turns to the gimmick to bridge between scenes and stories.
Luckily for us, the “talking heads” offer great insight into the man behind the mononym. Those who knew him, loved and adored him, with filmmaker Joel Schumacher, for example, exhibiting a constant smile on his face with everything he shares. The story of Halston’s rise to fame is indeed fascinating.
Beginning as a milliner in the late 1950s, Halston designed the famous pillbox hat wore by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for President Kennedy’s inauguration ceremony in January 1961. This drew immediate attention from the press, and he began designing women’s clothes later in the decade, opening a women’s boutique in the late 1960s in New York City.
He led innovation on redesigning how women dressed in the early 1970s. Utilizing fabric like silk and chiffon, his groundbreaking designs opened the door for future innovation. He moved to ultrasuede clothing and made dress pants fashionable for women, extolling the benefits they afforded women in all aspects of life. By the 1970’s, his revolutionary Halston brand was the choice couture of New York celebrities and his notoriety only continued to grow throughout the decade.
With the fame came all the spoils of celebrity. Connected to Andy Warhol, the Studio 54 crowd, and a frenetic party-every-night lifestyle, Halston started to see an acceleration of a life he struggled to maintain. Thousands of dollars would eventually go to fund an escalating cocaine habit. He willingly signed his name away to big contracts, which proved ill-advised and cost him oversight into what was designed under his moniker. His ego became larger and he grew increasingly difficult to deal with.
Halston’s story is one we have sadly heard one too many times. But what makes documentaries about celebrities unique from one another is when filmmakers can accentuate the intricacies which make them distinct and relatable. None of us may ever have the opportunity to create a distinctive brand of fashion with our name or brand emblazoned across every label, but we understand the pressure to succeed, to keep up appearances, and to never show weakness or vulnerability.
Halston presents a fragile genius whose own talents, fame, and abilities eventually got the best of him. Though he is remembered fondly, there is a bittersweet cloud hanging over much of Tcheng’s film, largely in the back half, where Halston’s weaknesses and indulgences sadly seemed to get the best of him.
CAST & CREW
Documentary Featuring: Tavi Gevinson, Liza Minnelli, Marisa Berenson, Joel Schumacher, Pat Cleveland, Bob Calacello, Carl Epstein, Lesley Frowick, Sassy Johnson, Naeem Khan, John David Ridge.
Director: Frédéric Tcheng
Written by: Frédéric Tcheng
Release Date: May 24, 2019