The Gospel According to Andre
Andre Leon Talley, Tom Ford, Whoopi Goldberg
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
The problem is that, as a film it is all a bit conflict-less.
People make documentaries about all sorts of people and all sorts of worlds. What is really important, is that you pick something, or someone, that has an interesting story to tell. Director Kate Novack has at least passed one of these tests. Her somewhat overly-admiring film centres on the American fashion journalist Andre Leon Talley. To say that Andre is larger than life would be to state the obvious, but he does rather effortlessly own that cliché. For starters he is enormously tall. Though slim in his youth, he has now bulked up and his habit of wearing giant cloaks increases this impression. In full regalia he looks like one of those Marx Brothers style gags where two people hide inside the one coat. You half expect someone smaller to leap out and surprise you.
The film selectively tells his life, more or less, in sequence and without too much editorialising. It is all him just being himself on screen intercut with luminaries of fashion relishing stories of being his friend. We learn that he was born in humble (but not dirt poor) circumstances in the Deep South and brought up with a strict sense of decorum by his church-going grandma. In those days, the attendees of the black churches would put on their Sunday best to go to worship, so little Andre got an early sense of how to turn yourself out nicely. He makes his way to The Big Apple and becomes a fashion journalist, eventually writing for Vogue.
His is a very long career and, along the way, he hangs out with Warhol, gets mentored by fashion editor Diana Vreeland and is still going when Anna Wintour takes over Vogue.
He is quite engaging company and it is clear that he is thoughtful and likeable. He can also hold court but not in a boring way. He comes across as an aesthete with dignity.
The problem is that, as a film it is all a bit conflict-less. More or less everyone is reverential about him and whatever bust ups he might have had in this catty world are tastefully swept away. Andre’s sexual preferences do not need to be focused upon either, but he does vouchsafe that he never found the lifelong companion that some of his male fashion friends (like Tom Ford) did.
There is one sequence where he recalls the shocking racist comments and attitudes that he occasionally had to harden himself against (being called Queen Kong for example), but this is very much under-explored. What we are left with is just Andre as an icon being seen in all the best places and enthusing about various outfits and Haute Couture designers. It is, it must be said, a slightly rarefied world.