Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A Most Magical Night


The first Monday in May in New York City: It offers something most of us mere plebes will never experience: glitz and glamour on a level that’s beyond next, for that is when the world-famous Met Gala takes place.

Andrew (Page One: Inside the New York Times) Rossi’s absorbing new docThe First Monday in May, chronicles the months-long painstaking thought and effort that went into producing last year’s first Monday in May, a.k.a. the massive and successful China: Through the Looking Glass” exhibit curated by Andrew Bolton (pictured here), the (new) head curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. Its release last weekend was timed perfectly, not only to help the Tribeca Film Festival open its 2016 program but to get you all excited about the upcoming affair co-chaired by Vogue’s Anna Wintour, Apple’s Jonathan Ive, Idris Elba, and Taylor Swift, which in just under two weeks from now shall celebrate the opening of a new spring show titled Manux X Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology.

The film is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the politics of the show. A constellation of stars like Rihanna, the Clooneys, Madonna, Katy Perry, Lady GaGa, Beyoncé, Kimye, Bradley Cooper, J. Lo, and exhibit co-chair J. Law, not to leave out leading designers and socialites – all guests of the fashion-meets-art fête – are, of course, featured, but they are not focus. Wintour, needless to say, is one.

She is (figuratively, literallyfront and center during the bulk of the production, given her commanding post at the fashion bible, but so is Bolton. Much has been said about Wintour’s editrix ways, thanks to The Devil Wears Prada, yet the fascination with the most powerful woman in fashion ought to extend and include her passion for fashion as a part, if not as a driving force of culture.

Wintour, Rossi makes clear, is a facilitator. In this case, she’s more than just the Met’s champion (the Met Gala raises millions for the Costume Institute; $12.5 million in 2015 alone): She is Bolton’s champion.

It is mostly through his studious eyes that we learn about the rigors of mounting a relevant, cutting-edge exhibition of all that art and fashion and film can unite to create – of, indeed, culture. The question of whether fashion is art is raised more than once, peppered here and there among talk of how much Rihanna is asking for to perform at the gala and who is sitting where.

Were it not for this oh-so-intelligent, intriguing, involving documentary, most of us probably wouldn’t have realized that filmmaker Wong Kar Wai played a key role as the artistic director of the show, advising on its narrative and, say, the wisdom of courting a little controversy by featuring a bust, if memory serves, of Mao among statues of the Buddha. We also wouldn’t have become privy to the politics of producing the show among the museum’s players, the star-studded soirée that introduces it, and their symbiosis; Wintour, in particular, comes off as a pragmatical maker of decisions...as a leader with a – gaps! – well-disguised sense of humor.

The First Monday in May is not about celebrity. Yes, you will see Jessica Chastain cutting a rug with Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci, but, more importantly, you will get to meet and, really (fingers crossed), understand the movers and shakers that create one of the most magical nights of the years.

Rossi never quite answers his central question, but, to be fair, it is not actually for him to decide or for his film to serve as the end-all of the conversation on the topic.

That is why we go to museums. Why we watch films (and TV). Why listen to music. Why we dress ourselves. Why we are, and why we ask why.

My Rating ***1/2

Photo: Magnolia Pictures.

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