January 12, 2017 -- This documentary film shows the elaborate preparations for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's 2015 fund-raising fashion exhibit “China: Through the Looking Glass,” the most popular such exhibition in history.
This was more interesting than I thought it would be not just because it shows how much work, thought and creativity goes into such a show, but because of the deep connection to film in this project. Acclaimed Chinese director Wong Kar-Wai (also listed as Kar-Wai Wong) is brought in to help with the exhibit, since his films, like “In the Mood for Love” show a refined fashion sense.
The connection between film and fashion is highlighted in this documentary, starting with the first Asian star in Hollywood, Anna May Wong (a third generation Chinese American born in Los Angeles in 1905) star of such films as “Shanghai Express” (1932). She portrayed typical Asian stereotypes of the time on screen, including the diabolical “dragon lady” type. One of Wong's more elaborate movie costumes is part of the exhibit.
The massive exhibit is directed by curator Andrew Bolton, with a lot of input from the museum administration, staff and others, such as Wong Kar-Wai and the iconic Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue magazine. In one funny scene, Wintour is somewhat taken aback when a reporter asks her how she felt about being the inspiration for the title character (played by Meryl Streep) in the film “The Devil Wears Prada.” After a pause, she gives a very diplomatic, face-saving answer.
A large number of movie stars, including Ann Hathaway (“The Devil Wears Prada”) appear at the gala ball, featuring a performance of “Bitch Better Have My Money” by singer, and fashion plate, Rihanna, who arrives in a spectacular yellow gown by designer Guo Pei. The dress has a train that would take at least five people to hold it up and keep it from dragging. We find out later in the movie that Rihanna, and her entourage, is very expensive to get, in the range of several hundred thousand dollars, even for charity work.
Movie stars, including George Clooney, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, help bring in the big bucks at the Gala, $12.5 million, which pays for the annual expense of the fashion department at the Museum. Obviously, anyone even remotely capable of buying any of these fashions is in the very upper strata of planetary income levels. The seating arrangements are a major headache for Wintour and her staff. Preparations for the gala and the exhibit, as usual for events of this sort, get absolutely frantic at the end when time is running out.
Preparations for the exhibit, which will ultimately draw in some 800,000 people, go on for months, involving consultations with the Chinese government, fashion designers, historians, filmmakers, etc. There is an extensive discussion about whether clothing design is a pure art, or an applied art, or just creating clothing to wear. Even clothing designers can't agree on that one. Some dresses in the exhibit perhaps could be worn, but you couldn't possibly move an inch, even if you could get them on. Not really clothing -- must be art?
From what I saw in the film, I'd have to say that some clothing design, at least, is art, particularly the striking designs of the late designer Alexander McQueen which are shown in the film. His designs look fit for alien costumes in science fiction movies. Curator curator Andrew Bolton indicates in the film that he is trying, with his Chinese exhibit, to match the success of his 2011 show, “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.” He did that, and more. This film rates a B.
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