Music and theater and opera and art and the whole damn thing.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Valentino: The Last Emperor

Just saw a movie about Rome. It was not The Da Vinci Code or Gladiator or even Roman Holiday (they were selling little toy gladiators and every sort of Roman legionary in all the souvenir shops of Rome); the movie I saw wasn’t even by Fellini: it was Valentino: The Last Emperor (the filmmaker was thinking of Pu Yi, not Valentinian III), recounting the designer’s last couple of fashion shows and the celebration of 45 years in the business, for which they took over the Ara Pacis (lovely shots of manikin statues in red or white evening wear reaching out in ritual supplication towards the altar) for a show of his Best of the Best, then a grand party in the temple of Venus and Roma (with new – artificial – columns) opposite the Coliseum (they didn’t even mention what food was served), with fireworks and lady acrobats from Cirque du Soleil spinning overhead in couture. He gets the Legion of Honor and pointedly thanks his lover of 45 years. He throws fits. The seamstresses (all women) throw fits. The money managers (all men) throw fits, but who cares? (Favorite scene: the seamstresses, who have been stitching in the background for forty years, by hand, no machines, fly to Rome to see the memorial exhibition in the Ara Pacis, and the Emperor greets them with kisses and roses at the door.) The gowns are spectacular. So are his houses. (I really want the Louis XIII number outside Paris – and I’ll keep the big Irish major d’omo.) Well: I recommend this.

Hal, who has not seen it but has seen a lot of other films about designers that I have missed (Mizrahi, Jacobs, Saint-Laurent), remarks that this glossy genre actually shows the wear and tear, the isolated personal temperament, the sheer drudgery steps towards magnificence of the journeyman artistic genius at work in a world with other – shadier – priorities, far better than do blah Masterpiece Theater-type documentaries about practitioners of the more prestigious arts. I’d agree with that, too, having only seen this one (and knowing almost nothing of Valentino before I went in). Unless you are in love with process (as I am, in theatrical or architectural context), making art, no matter how glorious, is, let’s face it, boring to the outsider. How can it be brought to life? Song and dance, perhaps.

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