The Gospel According to André

 

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 An extraordinary life detailed in a film that stays on the surface.

 
Gospel According to André

 
The title of Kate Novack’s film about André Leon Talley is strikingly unexpected but the movie itself is far more routine than one would hope. As a key figure in the world of fashion, Talley has turned up in a number of documentaries, most memorably in The September Issue (2009). However, as though promising us something different this time around, he is heard at the start of The Gospel According to André declaring that the things that matter to him are beauty and style, not fashion. In any case Talley’s life has a special significance of its own given that he is a black man from the south who, having been raised in North Carolina, has come to exemplify how such a background need not impede one from becoming a noted figure and one famed as much in Paris as in New York.

 

Talley is a great talker who has a larger-than-life persona - and not just because he is very tall and has become bloated in later life (he is 68 now and we see him seeking to lose weight). Yet he is also reserved about himself and, while his manner is that of a gay man, that is a label that he has dismissed. In that respect, his religious background could have influenced him, but this film never gets him to talk directly on the issue beyond an expression of regret that he has never been in love.

 

Consequently, race and sexuality feature here less than one would expect and what we get is a standard career résumé incorporating historical footage and fresh interviews with friends and colleagues, although the latter tend to be brief and unmemorable. For something idiosyncratic we need to turn to the words of the man himself as when he is ready to point out to somebody who stumbled over his surname that it is “Talley as in Talleyrand”. This film does contain telling tributes to the grandmother who raised him and to his mentor the splendid Diana Vreeland, yet the old footage of Vreeland and contributions from the likes of Anna Wintour and Manolo Blahnik only serve to remind one of more rewarding films about fashion in which they have appeared. An element of some novelty in this context does turn up towards the end of Novack’s film. That’s when in the last of four titled sections it introduces material about Donald Trump. It is amusing to hear Talley approving Melania Trump’s dress at the inauguration regardless of his feelings about her husband, but this footage like so much here is relatively superficial. Even so, the fact the Talley’s life has been such an unusual one makes the film watchable enough and, despite that admission that he has never been in love, it does become clear that Talley has loved at least two people, one being his grandmother and the other Mrs Vreeland.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  André Leon Talley, Anna Wintour, Tom Ford, Manolo Blahnik, Betty Catroux, Reed Evins, Diane de Furtenberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Fran Lebowitz, Isabella Rossellini, Sandra Bernhard, Rihanna.

 

Dir Kate Novack, Pro Kate Novack and Andrew Rossi, Ph Bryan Sarkinen, Ed Andrew Coffman and Thomas Rivera Montes, Music Ian Hultquist and Sofia Hultquist.

 

Abstract/Pacific Northwest Pictures-Thunderbird Releasing.
94 mins. USA/Canada. 2017. Rel: 28 September 2018. Cert. 12A .