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Eric Gaskins

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Ultrasuede: In Search Of Halston Part II

Posted: 05/02/2010 11:54 pm

This film has stayed with me the whole weekend after having seen it on Friday night. That's usually the sign of a good film, but in this case I'm not altogether convinced. The things I can't seem to let go of are not the moments of beauty or enlightenment. I can't let go of the irksome images and interviews with people within Halston's gravitational pull, or not, who took the film hostage, much the same way Whitney insinuated his way into the narrative like an unwelcome guest. I was also stymied by the absence of people like Bill Duggan, Halston's right arm, and Faye Robson, his Personal Assistant for many, many years at the Olympic Tower and a member of the entourage on his legendary trips. Both these people are very much alive and fonts of information. It seemed deliberate that Sudler-Smith ignored these experts on the subject of Halston. The premise of the documentary, a search for the man, was more a clever tease than an actual mission. The film in the end seemed more of a vehicle for the Director to gain entre to a party long over and ingratiate himself with some characters who brought little to the table.

There were moments where the footage of Halston at work, his presentations at the Olympic Tower and entrances at Studio 54 that were riveting. The glamor and larger than life quality of that time dwarfs similar high voltage events of today. The fashion elite at the premiere were like a hollow shell in comparison. Nubile, leggy beauties in impossibly short dresses mixed with the likes of Deeda Blair, easily the most compelling and chic woman there that night, dressed in Chado Ralph Rucci Couture, who was cheek to jowls with the hopefuls and the hopeless. The crowd outside waiting was primed for the photo op. Packs of women of a certain age and social standing were identifiable like tagged birds. Their faces were 20 years younger than their bare arms and all were herded to the best possible seats by their shepherd Boaz Mazor of Oscar de la Renta. He played the part of keeper of the keys to the V.I.P. section. Mario Buatta, the decorator, Kenneth Jay Lane looking so impossibly weary of this world, Women in their Oscars, Chados, Diors,vintage Halston as well as reconstituted Halstons , all air kissing in a nice tight circle while others watched from the side lines. Linda Fargo of Bergdorf Goodman was seated with NaeemKhan, who we learn in the film started his career in design as an assistant at Halston. What was downplayed was his father's beading concern in India which most likely supplied the intricate beaded fabrics that was so much a part of the Halston oeuvre. That detail was also lost on the cutting room floor. Fern Mallis and Jeffrey Banks were two sweet,knowing faces in a sea of predatory fish.

Whitney spent an inordinate amount of footage on Bob Colacello of Interview magazine and Paul Wilmot, the very successful P.R. man. They both recounted lots of stories of the Reaganomic sort that had little to do with the man and more to do with their places within that time frame. Nancy Reagan would appear with her famous "Just Say No" mantra, which obviously Halston and the rest of the country neither heard nor heeded. There was a shot of her in the White House in a white Galanos which didn't make sense in the overall scheme. Boaz coyly takes us on a tour of Halston's home, alluding to the fun that was had, and all of it implied as naughty. His big revelation was that he was photographed in a Levi's jean jacket before he even owned a leather one. This comment was meant to elicit awe and incredulity from the audience. It didn't. Nothing that was stated did more than tickle. It was as though the truth of the man was either unknown or a secret that would remain so. His appearance like Amy Fine Collins' was one of the many disconnected tangents that shed little light on the mystery. It was the equivalent of roll-over minutes of fame for them.

The footage of Halston and his models was magical but in surprisingly fragile condition. You can't believe how haphazardly stored these images are like fantastic albums that are covered with dust and scratches. The film asked many more questions than it answered. It will take another more scholarly approach for us to understand who Roy Halston Frowick was. The people left out like Elsa Peretti, Bill Duggan, Faye Robson and others of his friends and models have those answers. Pat Cleveland might have if she had stuck to the assignment which was to shine the light on the man. Instead, she, like the moth she claims to be, was too busy flying into the light, or match, which was meant for him. Her cloying, self absorbed star turn was one of the most annoying moments in the film and at the discussion that followed.

Victor Hugo, Halston's lover and darkside sidekick is credited with being a huge influence on his life and work. The windows of the Madison Ave. boutique were largely the brainchild of Victor. They swung between the sublime and the sinister, but always made an impression that would influence the aesthetic of many of the most important window display masters to come. He is also charged with orchestrating and conducting Halston's slide into addiction and ultimately his death. This is mildly and cautiously explored by people like Ming Vauze, a charming and clearly knowledgeable survivor of the entourage who was a close friend to Victor with an intimate proximity to Halston. Whitney treats him as more an oddity than a valuable source. Yet, another wasted opportunity.

This was no Valentino: The Last Emperor or even Unzipped as far as a film that both elucidates and educates. It was more the Love Boat without the Star Guest of Honor and his entourage.

What we're ultimately left with is the unsavory fact that the company has passed through the hands of too many to count not mention at least 4 Creative Directors. It now belongs to Harvey Weinstein who has already burned through a few Creative Directors, as well. The most recent hire is Sarah Jessica Parker who is uniquely qualified to act as Creative Director for the new secondary line. I, for one, am worried.

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