Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Films for Fashionistas -- Teutonic Edition

I don't think there's any argument that Karl Lagerfeld is a hugely talented individual. (And if you have one to make, please feel free.) I for one wouldn't balk at the adjective "protean." He designs three separate fashion lines with very different sensibilities. He also has a full-fledged career as a fashion photographer, doing editorial work for magazines as well as a good chunk of the advertising for the lines he designs.

And I'm not even going to get into the DJ-ing and the art & architecture collaborations and whatnot. It's always something with Karl. So, yes, protean, and probably genius.

I also don't think there's any argument that he's... well, an odd duck. How odd? Eh. Maybe a little less so than I thought.

Last weekend I finally got around to watching this:

Considering its subject, this movie should have been more interesting. The promotional materials talk very proudly about how the filmmaker, Rodolphe Marconi, spent three years filming hundreds of hours of footage for this film and if that is in fact true, I'm afraid Mr. Marconi needs a new editor. I'm probably being unfair here, because one of the other things that gets said a lot in the press material is that Mr. Marconi wanted to approach a documentary in such a way that "broke all the rules" of documentary filmmaking. Production notes state that "He demonstrates a delicate and subtle touch by deconstructing the documentary style and the conventions of portraiture; he chooses not to be polemical; he will show no insolence or disrespect. He rejects the style of television investigations and concentrates on what he feels as an artist about the Lagerfeld legend." That's a valid artistic ambition and all (love the Pompous Artspeak couched in that wonderful, awkward, hilarious French-to-English Translate-ese), but the thing about a movie about Karl Lagerfeld is that probably most of your audience is going to be hard-core fashionistas and design geeks and we want a little more than a tone poem.

I want to know how the guy works. I want to know what his design process is like, what his studio environment is like, just how many design assistants does he have, how on earth does a person maintain the kind of artistic output that Lagerfeld is generating? I want to meet the people he works with and hear about what he's like as a boss, I want to see how things go from ideas to plans to garments on a hanger. I want the down & dirty details of how Lagerfeld makes fashion. I don't, honestly, care all that much about his relationship with his mother.

And there is a LOT of talk about his mother. She sounds fascinating, don't get me wrong, one of those classic beaux monstres that are almost a cliché of the Artist's Mother -- a kind of post-Weimar Sally Bowles meets Auntie Mame. If Lagerfeld is to be believed, he's been openly gay since he was pre-adolescent, and his family, especially his mother, were always perfectly okay with it, even blasé about it. Given that this would have been mid-1940's Germany, that seems remarkable. On the other hand, Lagerfeld does seem an extraordinarily singular personality, so I guess it stands to reason that he was raised by unusual people.

Still, the fact remains that I personally am much less interested in finding out what makes Karl tick than seeing how he ticks, and there's precious little of that in this film. We do get this delicious nugget, footage from what I think is a Chanel Couture show:


I'd sure like to see more stuff like that rather than what I presume are home movies of the child Karl frolicking in the surf somewhere. (Are they Karl? Where was the surf? Who took these? We're never told. That really annoys me. It's pretty to look at, but Style Spy wants information.)

My favorite section of the movie comes exactly midway through it. It's a short interlude of Lagerfeld talking while he sketches.

He works in marker and correction fluid, mostly, and it's fascinating to watch. He's an extremely sure-handed sketcher, the pictures takes only a few minutes to complete and there is no hesitation whatsoever in Lagerfeld's movements. In my ideal version of the Karl Lagerfeld movie, we see him make that sketch, and then we find out how that garment is realized and see it worn by someone with a pulse.

But this isn't my movie, it's Mr. Marconi's movie, and in his ideal Karl Lagerfeld movie it's more important to know what Karl thinks about love, and whether he likes living alone or with someone else.

I'm not not recommending this movie. It's lovely to look at and is more information about Lagerfeld than I had before, even if it wasn't nearly all the information I wanted. It will not be a wasted 90 minutes, I assure you. (Unlike, say, the first two episodes of "True Blood," which I also watched last weekend. That's two hours of my life I'm never going to get back.) I honestly liked Lagerfeld more after watching it than I did before, and that surprised me. Yes, odd duck for sure, but his oddity seems genuine and somehow gentler than I expected it to be. I didn't get the feeling from this movie that Lagerfeld is putting on a show -- he really is this off-kilter, singular, visionary guy who lives in his own little world, but he doesn't seem particularly impressed by himself. He does make a lot of pronouncements about Life and the Way Things Are, but hell, he's earned the right. Most of his life and its activities seem motivated above all by a strong desire not to be bored or complacent, and I understand and even admire that.

So. Style Spy rating? One stiletto up (out of a possible two). Have you seen this movie? Tell me what you thought about it. Or give it a watch and report back, I'd like to hear your opinions.

Images: chanel.com, karllagerfeld.com, fendi.com, all via models.com; lagerfeldconfidentiel.com

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Belle de Ville said...

In spite of the fact that I basically agree with Manolo the Shoeblogger about Karl Lagerfeld, I am intrigued to see the film because of your review.
You are an excellent writer and you should be writing for New York Magazine like the Fug Girls.

deep_in_vogue said...

Goodness I've been meaning to watch this forever. And I think tomorrow's the day I finally will (after a dreaded law exam). I second Belle, you are a great writer and your articles are always so interesting to read. xo

Thumbelina Fashionista said...

Sorry I haven't commented earlier. Everytime I went to your site my computer would shut it down. (I know, weird. Today it's perfectly normal.) Anyway, I LOVE Lagerfeld too. All of his collections are fabulous, particularly Fendi and Chanel (his own personal line seems duller than the other two). I always try to purchase at least one item (Chanel or Fendi) per season.

I haven't seen the movie, but I agree with all of your points of interest.