Saturday, September 22, 2012

In DIANA VREELAND: THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL, a younger Vreeland, Perlmutt and Tcheng dissect a legend and her legacy

If you follow this blog much at all, you'll have probably encountered one post or another that takes out after fashion and its ludicrous industry. TrustMovies has little good to say about this particular f-word and its many "fashionistas" who follow it like flies on the trail of fresh excrement. And yet he thoroughly enjoyed the new documentary, DIANA VREELAND: THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL, which was co-directed and co-written by Vreeland's granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland (shown below, right), together with Bent-Jorden Perlmutt (shown below, left) and Frédéric Tcheng.

This is the fledgling outting for young Vreeland, although Perlmutt has produced, directed, edited and written a few other works, while Mr. Tcheng was both co-producer and co-editor on another enjoyable fashion documentary, Valentino: The Last Emperor. The threesome has managed to put together quite a feast of information and photos, and though the film is overwhelmingly historic and archival, it remains consistently fascinating as it tracks the life, times and work of a strange woman with a gift for gab -- and style.

The quote on the poster (at top) is indicative, I think, of both fashion and the doyenne who ran it for several decades in the middle of the 20th Century: "Style is everything... Style is a way of life. Without it, you're nothing." This statement is, in a word, bull-shit. It applies only if you're in fashion. Think of anyone, everyone, from Stephen Hawking to Robert J. Oppenheim to the woman at IBM who invented the JPEG. Or think of yours truly and the literally hundreds and hundreds of good people I've known -- better: think of those that you've known -- throughout our lives who didn't have much style and couldn't care much about style (or at least Ms Vreeland's idea of it) and yet did very nicely over-all, thank you.

Fortunately, Diana (you pronounce it Dee-anna, not Die-anna: that's something I learned from this film), had some other interesting things to say and do and places to go and see. Somewhat on the order of a female Oscar Wilde (with perhaps not quite so lasting or important a gift to give the world), she was not a particularly attractive person who made the most of what she had and kept a new bon mot up her sleeve for use at every occasion. (On looking out at a lovely sea view: "Water is god's tranquilizer.")

She is a consistent delight to listen to here, in transcripts from interviews done with the late writer George Plimpton. The film is a mixture of the Plimpton interviews, historical footage, and interviews with many others who knew and worked with her, including actress Ali McGraw, who was her assistant for a time, and has a very funny anecdote to tell.

We get quite a bit of her younger years growing up with a nasty mom and a decent dad. Mommy managed to instill in her that she was not at all pretty, and this of course stayed with her for life. Perhaps it was Daddy (above, with Diana on the right) who implanted a strong enough sense of self that she was able to rise in the fashion world and maintain her place there long after others had fallen.

This woman, who lived from 1903 to 1989, knew and loved everyone from Buffalo Bill to Twiggy (that's Yves St. Laurent with her in the shot to the right). She managed to land a very attractive husband (below), whose fidelity may have been in question, yet the marriage lasted and produced a couple of kids for whom, it appears, Diana had little interest. (She was perhaps less of a mother to her brood than her own mother had been.)

But the work she inspired and produced in the pages of, first, Harper's Bazaar and later Vogue -- the really clever and original Why Don't You... columns (below) for the former, and the drop-dead, knock-your-socks-off fashion spreads for both magazines -- remain today as original and enticing as they seemed at the time they were created.

From the little we see and hear about and from her family, it is clear that they missed her, for even when she was there, she wasn't present. Yet she must have been great fun to be around (perhaps at a little distance) for those who did not need to depend on her too much. In any case, she proves an utterly entrancing, commanding and nifty subject for this documentary. Were Diana herself able to view the film, I suspect she would be quite impressed, if a tad angry, at how very well she's been captured.

Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, from Samuel Goldwyn Films and Epix Pictures, with a running time of 86 minutes, opened yesterday (and I apologize for my tardiness in posting: It's been too busy a week!) in New York (at the Angelika Film Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema) and Los Angeles (at The Landmark), and will expand into other cities in the weeks to come. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters listed.

No comments: