A documentary about the American fashion designer invites comparison with a superior movie.


When it comes to subject matter, many a documentary has embraced the idea of portraying life in the world of fashion and more often than not with one individual at its centre. Now it's the turn of the American Roy Halston Frowick (1932-1990).  It happens in this film written and directed by Frédéric Tcheng who himself made an earlier contribution to the genre with Dior and I in 2015. This time around, he has made a film which makes substantial use of archive material including interviews with Halston himself but which unhelpfully opts for the 'Scope format (the larger size of the screen serves to emphasise the graininess of much of the old stock). More unusually, Halston also featured scripted scenes with actress Tavi Gevinson playing an archivist and acting as narrator: that was a device not welcomed by critics, but the version of Halston that now reaches us has been shortened by almost fifteen minutes and it would appear that this element has been drastically curtailed.


Halston's story is one of ambition and achievement followed by decline. In this instance Halston's fall was linked to corporate pressures (that aspect is perhaps the most interesting part of the film) but it was also a case of power and the celebrity life-style he indulged (Studio 54 gets a look in for example) ruining a man's life. It would end with his death from Aids but long before that Halston, affected by pressure of work on the one hand and by drug taking on the other, had become both a control freak and an abusive bully.




The dramatic arc here has something in common with that of another designer Alexander McQueen, but he, despite his failings, was a far more sympathetic person. However, that is only partly the reason why the documentary biopic about him, McQueen, underlines the extent to which Halston, a passable enough run-through of a life, lacks real distinction. That 2018 film portrayed McQueen's life in real depth with interviewees providing insightful contributions. In Halston Liza Minnelli leads a whole train of interviewees, but many speak comparatively briefly with neither their praise nor their blame providing any real depth. It is typical that, while mention is made of Halston's boyfriend of 15 years (a relationship some thought unhelpful to him), that relationship never comes properly into focus. Other fashion-linked films such as Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel (2011), to which Tcheng contributed as a co-director, and Bill Cunningham New York (2010) have featured splendidly fascinating individuals. Halston is much less interesting, or seems so here. McQueen had the unexpected depth found in the best biographical books and thus had very wide appeal, but Halston in contrast will mainly please those with a strong interest in fashion.                  




Featuring  Liza Minnelli, Nancy North, Bob Colacello, Lesley Frowick, Lisa Zay, Gino Balsamo, Faye Robson, Don Friese, Carl Epstein, Marisa Berenson, Joel Schumacher and Tavi Gevinson. 


Dir Frédéric Tcheng, Pro Roland Ballester, James Paul Dallas, Stephanie Levy and Frédéric Tcheng, Screenplay Frédéric Tcheng, Ph Chris W. Johnson, Pro Des Markus Kirschner, Ed Èlia Gasull Balada and Frédéric Tcheng, Music Stanley Clarke, Costumes Megan Stark Evans. 


CNN Films/ Dogwoof Pictures/TDog.-Dogwoof.
105 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 7 June 2019. Cert. 12A