March 02, 2014

Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s is an entertaining light exposé told through the eyes of designers whose wares its sells. Some stories such as the fate of Halston are old hat, but there is much that is original and inspirational here. Its main detriment is occasional fashionista self-infatuation, as when an interviewee old enough to know better describes the McQueen show at the Met being a “cultural event” for all New Yorkers.

Likewise Red Obsession, which deals with Bordeaux vintners and Chinese customers, is engaging with its history but insufferable for its affectations”€”especially given that survey after survey reveals virtually all self-proclaimed connoisseurs cannot distinguish good wine from bad in blind studies. Admittedly, in this I am biased, believing if one is to collect things French they should be either Impressionists or accents.

Salinger is more a ridiculous hagiography than serious scholarship. Footage reveals the author was briefly married to a German national after the war and ominously implies she was all but an unknown daughter of Hitler. An accompanying text  offers scant evidence she was anything more than a civilian caught in political circumstances beyond her control, as much a Nazi as a janitress in Krasnoyarsk of 1930 might be a Soviet.

Otherwise the film fixates on Salinger’s predilection for those in early pubescence. If anyone is shocked that a creepy loner in a remote cabin has sexual idiosyncrasies, I’ll sell the bridge to his retreat. Endless glassy-eyed tributes of Hollywood acolytes and a melodramatic score that would put Max Steiner to shame help the thing reach a level of soppy nonsensicality requiring a towel with which to dry yourself.

The Institute cannot be quite called a documentary per se, but it is worth watching. Reading a synopsis of the film might lead one to skip it indiscriminately. It details the bizarre, seemingly contradictory, and often outrageous antics of the Jejune Institute of San Francisco. Yet after ten minutes you’ll find yourself reconsidering whether joining a cult might be such a bad thing after all.

If one skews the viewfinder in the vein of Michael Moore (who has been accused of “losing” footage which would undermine his agenda) or Morgan Spurlock (who does little but look for “€œreality”€ to buttress his puerile politics), fame and riches await.
Unfortunately, most documentary filmmaking is a labor-intensive prospect that promises long hours, major ignominy, and scant financial reward. At the end of an interminable process, creators often have only the satisfaction of knowing they created something worthwhile. This year a few of them succeeded.

Sometimes fact”€”even faux-fact”€”can be more entertaining than fiction.



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