Blowhard, Esq. writes:
I semi-enjoyed this new documentary about the annual exhibition and fundraising gala for the Metropolitan Museum’s fashion wing. Every spring The Costume Institute mounts a major exhibit that opens on May 1st with a lavish party attended by A-listers from the fashion, movie, and music worlds. The movie follows The Costume Institute’s two key players — curator Andrew Bolton and Vogue editor-in-chief/Institute patron Anna Wintour — as they produce, finagle, and fuss over China: Through the Looking Glass, the Institute’s 2015 show about the influence of Chinese art on Western fashion.
Director Andrew Rossi, a Yale and Harvard Law School graduate whose last two films have looked at higher education and The New York Times, seems to be focusing his career on profiling eminent, grey lady institutions. But, for good and for ill, Rossi’s film is an authorized portrait. In exchange for access to the principals there’s certain PBS-pledge-week stodginess to the proceedings. Rossi’s film glides smoothly without any of Nick Broomfield’s impish snark or Frederick Wiseman’s microscopic intensity. Instead, we get a mini-bio of Bolton, footage of La Wintour intimidating everyone in her Chanel glasses, and a sense of the political juggling necessary when putting on fashion exhibition at an august museum. There are Met officials to placate (the show mustn’t be too “Disney”) and the Chinese government itself must be appeased. No mention is made that the show was originally titled Chinese Whispers: Tales of the East in Art, Film, and Fashion and was changed only after the inevitable sniveling from cultural appropriation crowd. Rossi gets in some ruminations on the chin-scratching “Can art be fashion?” issue, but the movie wisely sidesteps spending too much time on airy academic debate. I guess it’s hard to care about 19th-century conceptions of what constitutes “fine art” when Rihanna is regally ascending the steps of a red carpet in a couture gown while making bedroom eyes.