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Halston (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 1, 2020


HALSTON (2019)

Featuring Liza Minnelli, Marisa Berenson, Joel Schumacher, Gino Balsamo, Karen Bjornsen, Walter Bregman, Alva Chinn, Pat Cleveland, Bob Colacello, Fred Dennis, Carl Epstein, Tom Fallon, Don Friese, Lesley Frowick, R. Couri Hay, Sassy Johnson, Naeem Khan, Malcolm “Nick” Lewin, Michael Lichtenstein, Podie Lynch, Patricia Mears, Nancy North, Michael Pellegrino, John David Ridge, Faye Robson, Fred Rottman, Chris Royer, Joel Smilow, Paul Wilmot, Jeffrey Wirsing, Peter Wise and Lisa Zay.

Starring Tavi Gevinson, Cornelia Guest, Sean Dugan, Corey Allen, Ned Eisenberg and Joe Milhalchick.

Written by Frédéric Tcheng.

Directed by Frédéric Tcheng.

Distributed by Dogwoof. 120 minutes. Not Rated.

The film – based on and named for the legendary fashion designer, who was famous for his simple yet stunning couture, high profile clientele, and Studio 54 nightlife – sounds like a life story that would captivate an audience of its own right. Add to it a cautionary tale of selling your soul to the highest bidder, marketing to the masses while in effect stretching your psyche to its breaking point, coupled with drug addiction as a means to be more productive (a recipe for disaster, PSA: don’t do drugs) and you have a story that is relevant and poignant.

So why add artificial, misleading dramatization to an already drama heavy story?

Why indeed.

Halston begins with a fictional narration, with a cine-noir soundtrack, painting the picture of a true crime story. For anyone unfamiliar with Halston’s history, the intro leads you to believe you are embarking on a true crime murder mystery.

Make no mistake, crimes were for sure committed, crimes for which the perpetrator is big business and the victim is the art world. But for sure, the documentary sets itself up as a story that it is not. There has never been an investigation or a trial, let alone a conviction.

While Halston’s outwardly disgusted, but fashionably attired niece is interviewed, and refuses even to say the name of Carl Epstein. He was the corporate businessman who was sent in to shave the fat off of Halston’s exorbitant expenses while under the ownership of Playtex parent company, Esmark.

The same Carl Epstein is then interviewed and shown as quite a fan of his time with Halston, never realizing that he is in fact one of the villains of the story.

Halston as a documentary is at it’s best when it is chronicling the early history of Halston. Born in a small town in Iowa, he never looked back – today and tomorrow was all that mattered to Halston.

He got his start in fashion as Bergdorf Goodman’s milliner. He was at the top of that industry, responsible for Jackie O’s famous pillbox hat and helped fashion more than 100 of the masks worn by attendees at Truman Capote’s iconic 1966 Black & White Masquerade Ball.

In 1968 he left Bergdorf’s to start his own fashion house. Halston became famous for his simple-but-flowy single seam fabric designs. The fabric was sculpted into a dress simply by the way the fabric was cut. The dress patterns looked like modern art in themselves.

Halston wanted to branch out from fashion to design, starting with perfume. Working with Elsa Peretti, Halston’s design eye and attention to detail broke the mold at the time for perfume bottle design with its asymmetrical design. The only label was found on the bottle’s neck ribbon.

He dreamed of moving into furniture, linens and more. As his plans became grander, he never diminished his involvement in the day to day oversight. If a product had his name, it needed to be to his standard.

Appearance was everything, as shown by the media coverage of his foray into China’s design industry. Footage shows the glamour of an international tour while personal accounts show a much darker view, likely fueled by lack of sleep and drug use.

In the end, I was left with an empty feeling. I admired the artist’s work, but not the artist, leaving me with little genuine sympathy for the man. He was kind of a dick; an addict in need of a 12-step program.

What the film does finger point to is that corporate greed leaves an indelible imprint on times past. In the case of Halston, it led to the erasure of fashion history through the erasure of his video tapes and the selling off of his original work for pennies on the dollar, instead of saving them for preservation.

Bonnie Paul

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: May 31, 2019.

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