Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In James Belzer's THE TENTS, the NYC fashion industry sends a Valentine to itself

"Fashionistas" (of both the actual and would-be varieties) will find much to love about THE TENTS, in which, with the help of director James Belzer, the New York City fashion industry sends a Valentine's Day message to itself: "Omigod, we love you!" Anyone who remotely follows fashion -- you can't get away from the ridiculous thing if you live here in New York City or its environs -- will hardly find that message new, as we get a daily dose of it from our media. But if you have not had your fill by this Thursday, February 16, when the movie opens for a "limited," as they say, two-day run at the Tribeca Cinema in downtown Manhattan, then be there and bask.

Director Belzer, shown at left, has connected to all the right people -- from the folk who organize the fashion shows to the designers who create the fashions to the celebrities who show up to be seen and be seated in noticeable locations. The movie is titiled The Tents, which refers to the tents under which New York's Fashion Week used to take place in Manhattan's Bryant Park. The most interesting section of of Belzer's movie is devoted to the history of how these tents came into being: how Fashion Week became the media event that is said (according to this film, at least) to have catapulted New York into the forefront of the worldwide fashion industry. Once we're there, however (perhaps one-third of the way along), the movie loses what focus it had and the to-and-fro mash notes about the wonder of fashion become a little much.

In the most ridiculous of these, one that is certain to take its place in "camp" history, InStyle's Hal Rubenstein (above) has this to say about the fact that the world really could not live without fashion: "There are certain arts that you can live without: The world would be a poorer place without painting and sculpture, but you would survive." Really, Hal? But we just could not survive without fashion? I'm still giggling over that one. (In fairness, the movie allows another maven to admit, "Fashion is not something you must have. It's not necessary. You have to be seduced into buying it.")

We get to see quite a lot of the designers -- just a few of whom are pictured above. (I am not going to identify because, if you have not already been bored to death by simply reading this post, then you know very well who they are.) What they have to say is pleasant and sometimes thoughtful but hardly memorable.

The film begins and ends with Queer Eye's Carson Kressley holding court, a not inappropriate bookend for this brand of documentary/infomercial. More interesting are the people who work behind the scenes  -- like Fern Mallis, who appears to be the person most responsible for originally organizing Fashion Week. As the movie goes on (and on and on -- yet it lasts only 78 minutes), it covers briefly subjects such as how fashion editors form stories out of the new designs they see, what goes on backstage at Fashion Week, how Project Runway came about, what it takes to be a model, the various ways in which fashion aids charity -- and what the internet has meant to the fashion world. Regarding that last topic: it's all about the importance of speed (no, not the pharmaceutical). As Betsy Johnson tells us, "What I'm showing at Fashion Week is in my stores right now."

Finally, however, The Tents manages to contradict its very raison d'être. Suddenly Bryant Park is over, those tents are gone and Fashion Week has moved up to Lincoln Center. But, hey, no problem, because "Fashion is about change!" And excess. And excuse. Other fashion docs  -- The September Issue, Valentino, the Last Emperor and L'Amour Fou to name but three -- have shown, along with their idolatry, a willingness to explore and even sometimes to question. This one, which is on-and-off entertaining and fun (at least for "fashionistas"), seems content just being a commercial.

The movie plays this Thursday, February 16 and Friday, February 17, at the TRIBECA CINEMAS, 54 Varick Street, NYC (212) 941-2001. Go to the film's official website for more information and/or to view the trailer.

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