Tag Archives: Vogue Magazine

THE FIRST MONDAY IN MAY (2016) dir. Andrew Rossi

20 May

I would’ve loved the director to have taken a hammer to the mirror of society we were privy to. If English-speaking aliens were to come to Earth tomorrow, they could deduce many things about the way we live and contemporary attitudes from this documentary. Perhaps they could ascertain something of the psychology of the masses, the state of being human, the racial impression we’re dressed by every day and with every lasting breath. The First Monday in May is also known as The Met Ball movie, a behind-the-scenes documentary of the Costume Institute’s annual fundraising party, the number one event in modern fashion society’s calendar.

How many of the glitzy celebrities attending the party live in squalor-like conditions with dirty dishes in their sinks or coffee rings on their bedside tables? It wouldn’t hurt to obliterate the self-perpetuating machine of celebrity culture. Instead this documentary reinforces the great separation people insist upon because they exist on another plane, they exist in images, their words are immortalised in interviews, their music now—in the spinning of the world around the sun—is playing at a rate of a thousand laps a moment. Famous people, like gods, are immortalised. What they do supposedly reaches everyone and retains a legacy. Anna Wintour (editor of Vogue, creative director of Conde Nast, household name), will be Anna Wintour for all the scrutiny and eternity and awesomeness there is and was and ever will be. The party is at her command. The party opens an exhibition. This time round the theme was China.

Why am I taking the tack of celebrity culture? Well, you see, there’s this sub-text running through the narrative from the opening first five minutes. Is fashion art? Are clothes art forms? The answers are presented in a subtile way. Dame Wintour thinks the Alexander McQueen exhibition in 2010 changed public perceptions of fashion as art. Baz Lurman, who acted as creative consultant along with Kar-wai Wong, makes some comment about art appearing in galleries and fashion not belonging in a museum context. Not necessarily his own views, I should add. Karl Lagerfeld skirts around his own opinion by talking about dress maker and clothes designer Coco Chanel.

Some people don’t perceive photography as art. I mean it’s a recent development to appreciate certain art forms as art and not mere arts. Applied arts, I think, was the term used to describe the living and breathing art forms residing a shelf higher than the craft category.

When I worked in an art gallery between 2002 and 2005, somehow it was apparent that in their art and in their everyday existence there were many people like myself who were blurring the lines between being alive and being an artist. When MySpace came about, it was fascinating to have found so many other people in the same ideological realm. MySpace was instrumental in the evolution of society in this way. Art became something people were living. People did more than one thing, too. It was possible to be many things all at once. There was no need to apply one label upon oneself and adhere to the label. In fact, why fix any label? MySpace challenged and changed like art itself does. Art is the fluctuating background we create in order to design ourselves new fluctuating camouflage. Art is evolution actively at work.

Passing MySpace it seems strange to question whether certain art forms are art or not. Plus the ideal of celebrity has altered—possibly due to MySpace’s influence on culture. The distance between the Other and ordinary people closed in a little. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram: they’re ways to be closer to your out-of-reach idols. Nevertheless, why do we think celebrities are special people and why do we query whether an art form is an art form is an art form? MySpace delivered.

My number one celebrity moment in the movie was Chloe Sevigny’s disappointed face when she found her table: tucked away in a remote corner. Anna and an assistant had been heard talking about the very same table. “There aren’t any celebrities on here, are there?” asked Anna. No worries, Chloe. I wonder if she felt relegated. There are some superb shots of other celebs dancing and being pally. Dresses that looked great on the red carpet seemed stripped of their glamour once inside. I guess the ordinary person doesn’t get their photograph taken on the red carpet so even jeans and an old t-shirt could look amazing on a famous body there. But under the disco ball you can’t help but wonder what you would make of it if you walked into a local gig and found your friends as overly dressed. Even if it was the Met Ball, the famous faces seemed too familiar, too dressed.

Kar-wai Wong dealt the most Chinese moment. “To see too much is to see nothing,” he said. I was thinking about it for a little while to follow.  They wanted to put pictures of Chairman Mao in a room full of Buddhas, which seems vile from this angle. Imagine Elizabeth II pictures in a room given over to Jesus? Too weird, yeah.

Dragons came into it in a couple of ways. I actually laughed out loud. Information on actress Anna May Wong, then the Chinese Dragon Woman stereotype, then cut to a shot of Anna Wintour in the backseat of her ride. The director next confronted Anna’s public image, which is one of firebreath and terror, though I can imagine her enjoying a cup of proper builder’s tea or a pint of Worthingtons. Dragons later gave another burst of amusement when Lurman gave his consultancy. “How Chinesey… how Chinois-y… do you want it to be?” he says. “Are these dragons?” He quickly passes over the picture of the entrance adorned with two huge lurid green monsters. “Yes,” says Anna confidently. He gives his approval for the less gaudy interior before returning to the dragons, which were then tactfully scrapped.

Making changes to celebrity fees was another matter on the agenda. Rihanna, who wore the most gigantic yellow gown and looked more Hollywood than the sign in the hills, sung to the crowd in another outfit. Rihanna raised the audience’s eyebrows when an assistant e-mailed Anna with, Re: Rihanna’s budget. “It has to come from someone higher up,” says the assistant. “It has to come from you.”

“I feel so much better,” says Rihanna at the rehearsal. Did they or didn’t they pay for her village-sized entourage? Ten thousand people in China could have survived for a hundred years on what we -bleep- we heard she had asked for. Personally, I didn’t think the figure sounded that high. I mean, Rihanna is a famous person. She doesn’t run out of toilet paper or eat baked beans on toast.

We saw the pre-event staff brief taking place but who were the staff? I spotted a glass collector on the dance floor, wedged between some people whose names I don’t remember, kitted out to look like a guest. Discretion is everything. Throughout the documentary there is a sense of it being a last minute affair, which events usually are. What could have been even more insightful for the audience is more focus on the less significant contributors and staff. When the man with the 20 foot perspex rod bamboo garden says that he thinks the light might carry all the way up the rod, what someone with an event background hears is that there is a strong possibility that the light won’t carry all the way to the top of the rods alongside the planned outcome. Once he says this and gives a demonstration on a length of rod, I wished we could watch him suffer as he lies awake at night crossing his fingers and toes that there would be enough rods to fill the space and that his mastermind genius event design idea would come to fruition and work. There’s a lot of risk involved with events.

How could I have written all these words without mentioning Andrew Bolton? He wins the audience’s affections immediately by explaining that when he was asked what he wanted to do in life -as a Lancashire lad aged 17- he had replied with Curator at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan museum. If you please! Remember the universe will help you to achieve your goal and the more extreme or specific the better. Go for it! Andrew Bolton is pure inspiration.

It seemed as though Bolton had decided upon the costumes and done a lot of research before the event was brought on schedule. It seemed pretty early on that he flew to Paris to examine the Saint Laurent vaults. There were just enough of the clothes involved in the exhibition caught on camera. There could have been more exploration of the micro-politics of fashion and the psychology of orientalism. However, we can grasp the sensitivity and questions of taste well from the movie. Without having seen China: Through the Looking Glass I can’t say how much more was in the exhibition.