Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Matthew Miele's success/money/celebrity fest: SCATTER MY ASHES AT BERGDORF'S

If you follow TrustMovies, you'll already know how little interest he possesses in the subject of "fashion." That said, he did immensely enjoy the recent documentary, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. So despite a movie's subject, he (almost) never says no in advance. It might have been better for all concerned had he done exactly that regarding SCATTER MY ASHES AT BERGDORF'S, the new documentary about Bergdorf Goodman, the storied store considered by some to be Manhattan's finest retail establishment. The movie itself proves a non-stop love-letter to Bergdorf, celebrity, money and success -- from someone who can't write. Or, in this case, put together a coherent or even vaguely satisfying film.

That someone is a fellow named Matthew Miele, shown at left, who earlier gave us another, so-far-unreleased documentary, and a couple of little-seen narratives. Here he spends the entire first third of his film repeating himself by having one after another celebrity or designer or critic or fashionista babble on and say pretty much exactly the same thing: how amazingly wonderful a place is Bergdorf Goodman  and how it changed their life. Does this get tired fast? Take a guess. Here's my favorite among many nitwit lines: "Stores like this are necessary so that people will want to aspire."

Along the way you may note that Wall Street gets involved with the store eventually. Someday, I expect, after all those ashes have been scattered -- the title of the film comes from that famous New Yorker cartoon, of which one of the celebrities on hand, Susan Lucci, has evidently never heard -- we'll probably see an Occupy Bergdorf movement, too.

After all the praise has been spouted, by many of the subjects seen in the compilation above, we get to the (evidently) famous Bergdorf window displays and the guy who creates them. I probably walk past this store at least a couple of times per month, yet I never pay attention to these windows. Now I know why. According to what we see in this film, they are atrocious, cluttered, garish messes.

Around the midway point we get a little history of the place and its family of original owners. The Goodman couple, shown above, evidently lived on the floor at the top of the building that houses BG. One of the small treats of the film is the anecdote about how the couple was able to live there and circumvent the building code. (I won't tell it to you now, as I don't want to give away one of the only interesting moments.)

There's another story, which I am told is actually apocryphal, about Mr. Goodman and a bag lady -- which is supposed to illustrate how one should never judge a book by its cover but appears instead to suggest judging solely by how much money that lady has in her bag. The liveliest section by far is the one devoted to Betty Halbreich, an evidently rather famous personal shopper associated with Bergdorf Goodman. Unlike the movie, she is anything but fawning and has a very dry sense of humor. You'll appreciate the few minutes you spend with Betty.

When the Bernie Madoff scandal hit, BG took a hit, too -- but has bounced back beautifully. Even (more probably, especially) in this current economy, the store is thriving. At film's end, we finally see those finished "windows" that the designer has been working on throughout. They're as awful as you would have imagined, in which each dress (except the one designed by the late Alexander McQueen), supposedly displayed as central to its window, gets utterly lost in the clutter.

As the end credits roll, we get an ancient clip of Barbra Streisand doing a number from a old TV show in black-and-white that was filmed after hours at BG. Nice. But here was an opportunity to really learn about some history of this fabled retail store and its ups and downs, good points and bad. Yet everything we see and hear is peachy keen and then some. Think of Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's as a very long and very boring advertorial.

The documentary, from eOne Entertainment and running 93 minutes, opens this Friday in New York City at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, and on Friday, May 10, in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5. Elsewhere? Most likely. Though I cannot discover any other playdates currently posted.

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