David John Swajeski's Dressed, opening in limited release today (2/4/11) and Craig Teper's Vidal Sassoon: The Movie, in limited release next week (2/11/11), are birds of a feather -- documentaries about individual fashion artists (one a clothing designer, one a hairdresser) whose microcosm is supposed to convince us of their importance to the world around us.
But it's had to get worked about either of these slim nonfiction offerings. Dressed has the feel of a puffed-up reality TV outing (as do so many of what pass for documentaries these days). And Vidal Sassoon feels like an infomercial, selling the 80-plus-year-old stylist.
Indeed, it's hard not to giggle in the opening minutes of Vidal Sassoon when one of the witnesses to his significance proclaims that he "may be the most important hairdresser who ever lived." I guess you've got to be the most important something to warrant this kind of hagiography.
Sorry, I have a hard time taking most things that are fashion-oriented all that seriously. As this film shows, Sassoon was the guy who invented the "five-point" haircut -- a boyish cut for women with sharp geometric corners. OK, so he brought geometry to hairstyling. It's not like he's Pythagorus.
Teper's film details Sassoon's diva-like behavior in the early days of his own beauty salon, where he apparently pioneered the practice of the domineering stylists who tell their clients what to do, rather than vice versa. His chopped-short haircuts also swept the world in the Swinging London of the Beatles and Mary Quant. Then he went on to conquer America, first with salons, then with products.
Sassoon comes off as a nice enough guy, one who overcame hardship as a child, stayed physically fit, has been through a couple of failed marriages and suffered after the premature drug-overdose death of one of his children. Otherwise, this is mostly hero worship, with articulate witnesses singing his praises and explaining how he changed the world. Or somebody's world.
By contrast, Nary Manivong in Dressed is a nobody who wants to be somebody but doesn't want to go through the hassle of auditioning for Project Runway to achieve his media moment. (Or perhaps this film is his feature-length audition tape.)
Neither does he want to work his way up through the industry. Instead, though he's an impoverished and struggling designer, he sets his sights on having his own show at Fashion Week, despite the fact that he's got less than $6,000 saved and the average Fashion Week show costs $250,000.
So he's the subject of this documentary, which shows him scraping to piece together his own collection, even as it lays out the hardships of his life to this point: son of Laotian immigrants, grew up in Columbus, Ohio; alcoholic and abusive father; became homeless at 14, etc.
But everybody's got a hard-luck story (including Vidal Sassoon). In most ways, this movie feels premature. Manivong hasn't done anything noteworthy yet. Yes, he's got talent, but so do most of the contestants on TV's various fashion-competition reality shows - or the people who go to FIT and try to make it the old-fashioned way.
Just because you put a camera on the guy doesn't make him interesting. Dressed and Vidal Sassoon are proof of that.