HALSTON – A Review by Cynthia Flores
This documentary starts out with a black screen and white letters that tell us, “The following film is a documentary. However, the narrator is a fictional character.” That’s a new one on for me. I know it’s challenging to make an entertaining documentary on such a well-known iconic figure like Roy Halston Frowick, but I wasn’t sure this setup would work well. The director Tchen uses an unnamed narrator (fashion blogger turned actress Tavi Gevinson – in a horrid wig) to frame the story. She’s a staffer in the Halston company archives. She’s pouring over old dossiers, legal papers and VHS tapes to get to the heart of the designer’s story. This is all underscored by the noir-ish jazz strains of Stanley Clarke’s film score. It turns out this bit wasn’t essential because the interviews really helped paint the true story of what happened.
There’s plenty of thrilling rise and fall drama that the interview material alone brings to life. I especially liked the confrontational questions to Carl Epstein, who really comes across as an actual bad guy. He acted like a rat bastard towards Halston once Norton Simon bought the brand from Roy Halstons’ friend that he had gone into business with creating the brand. Carl actually admitted how he took apart the vast collection of Halston’s work and erased 215 tapes of Halton’s shows from the archives. The guy claimed they were just taking up space and didn’t have an answer as to why he didn’t just donate it all to a museum.
Halston was known as a self-made man. He was gay and grew up in a small town in Iowa during the depression era. So, starting as a hat designer in Bergdorf Goodman’s in NYC was a big deal. He is the one that put the little pill hat on Jacqueline Kennedy when they moved to the White House. He would soon outgrow Bergdorf’s and conquer the world with his take on fashion. He believed in clean-lined simplicity, that was at the heart of the Halston aesthetic. The designer was the undisputed genius of the bias cut. He could take a roll of fabric, lay it on the floor, cut it just so and with that one cut create a dress for someone famous. He created single-seam garments out of only one piece of fabric that “Took away the cage” freeing the female body. His longtime friend Liza Minnelli, who has worn Halston throughout her professional career, said, “His clothes danced on you.”
In this film, we get to see him climb to the pinnacle of international success. He was the first designer to create a brand from his name and branch out into other disciplines. It’s common today, but he was the first to do it. He also elevated his star aura by hitting the town flanked by an entourage of glamorous women known as the Halstonettes. In 1977 when the infamous Studio 54 arrived on the scene, it was his kryptonite. He danced and partied all night and still worked hard all day. He increased his use of drugs to keep up with it all.
Roy Halston worked hard for what he had. He was demanding and tough to work with, but in the end, before he got sick, he was stabbed in the back by the corporation that bought the rights to his brand. They were slowly pushing him out and just cranking out anything they could put his name on despite the quality. When he decided to do a five-year deal to design for JCPenney that was really his undoing. The fancy Berdorf stores of the fashion world stopped carrying his line. They didn’t want to be associated with the rest of America that shopped at JCPenney.
When he realized he had lost control of his name, the thing he had built from nothing, it broke his heart. He decided then and there to leave it all behind. He sold his place in NYC and moved to San Francisco to be near his family that he had reconnected with. It was perfect timing because he had become HIV positive, and he would be surrounded by his family and loved ones as he slipped away. He passed away the night of the 62nd Academy Awards at the young age of 57. Everyone was shocked to see his name and face up on the screen during the “In Memoriam” part of the show. They played “Fanfare for the common man” by Aaron Copeland at his funeral. Halton was once asked in an interview, is success fun? To which he answered, “Sure, it’s upbeat, it’s downbeat, it’s everything in between, but as my mother once said, It’s the price you have to pay.”
If you are a fan of fashion and the great work this man gave us, then Halston is a must see in theaters this summer. Dress up a bit to go and enjoy this film I give an A rating.
Directed by Frederic Tcheng
Written by Frederic Tcheng
Selig Rating A
Running Time 1hr 45min
Limited Release June 7th Angelika Film Center Dallas and Plano
Starring: Roy Holston Frowick, Liza Minnelli, Marisa Brenson, Joel Schumacher
The Selig Rating Scale:
A – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
B – Good movie
C – OK movie
D – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
F – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.