Behind the scenes doc following the lead up to fashion’s biggest bash of the year, the Met Gala. Katrina Conaglen reviews the film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival
Director: Andrew Rossi
Featuring: Anna Wintour, Andrew Bolton, Baz Lurhmann, Rihanna
Release date: June 17, 2016
Running time: 90 mins
The First Monday In May is named after the night of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual costume ball, celebrating the opening of a new costume exhibit.
In 2015, the theme was China: through the looking glass, an ‘examination of the influence of China on Western fashion design’.
At the ball, 600 of the world’s most glamorous stars drape themselves in clobber worth more than the National Debt, and kiss the hem of hostess Anna Wintour’s garment.
Director Andrew Rossi’s ‘documentary’ (read: fawning hagiography) depicts Wintour and museum curator Andrew Bolton’s struggle to put the extravaganza together.
Bolton is a calmly spoken visionary who seems to do most of the work while Wintour watches on.
She’s working her Devil Wears Prada caricature: all pursed lips, bug-eyed sunglasses and merciless stares. Her colleagues assert there’s so much more to her than that.
Flash and glamour, but no substance
The film seems wilful in its refusal to properly engage with the ugly complexities of the world it depicts. There’s some wishy-washy chat about the dangers of cultural appropriation (the argument runs: we don’t want to offend China, but we don’t want to engage with any concerns about the exhibition being sentimental Orientalism at its worst).
Exhibition advisor Kar-Wai Wong wins an intriguing battle about not placing images of Mao Tse-tung in the same room as images of Buddha, but that’s a fleeting moment of philosophical intrigue in a sea of self-important pontificating from the film’s other unsavoury talking heads: Wendi Deng, John ‘I Love Hilter’ Galliano, Karl ‘Adele is too fat’ Lagerfeld.
There is an enjoyable irony in watching scenes in which Rihanna’s budget for performing is haggled down (amounts are bleeped, because divulging numbers would just be vulgar, darling) only to be followed by said singer performing an impassioned version of ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ at the ball.
That’s it for celebrity gossip, though, if the prurient is what you’re after: the film is too preoccupied with protecting the Ball’s image to allow for the trashy pleasure of watching rich people get drunk.
And yet… if you’re a fashionista, the curation of an inarguably stunning exhibition will be fascinating (the Porcelain room is an orgy for the eyes), and the final pan through astonishingly beautiful couture, to the transcendent melody of ‘Wild Is The Wind,’ is worth the price of admission alone.
This isn’t a fine exemplar of documentary film-making, but the clothes sure as hell are the haute-iest of couture.
The First Monday in May screens at EIFF today (17 June) at 8.35pm and tomorrow (18 June) at 1.20pm.
The film is due for a UK release on 30 September.