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Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s

Posted by martinteller on June 3, 2013

Bergdorf Goodman’s is a luxury retail store in Manhattan.  For decades it has been the tastemaker of the fashion world.  A designer working in high fashion dreams of having their collection chosen by the elite buyers, selling to an elite clientele… including First Ladies.  The store is the epitome of the saying, “If you have to ask what it costs, you can’t afford it.”  In this film, director Matthew Miele includes testaments to Bergdorf’s from dozens of top designers, admirers, celebrities, and employees.

The genre tag for this movie on IMDb is “Documentary”.  I can only assume that’s because they don’t have one for “Infomercial”.  This is little more than a love letter to Bergdorf’s, featuring an endless parade of talking heads gushing over how amazing the store is.  You’ve never heard such a litany of smug, elitist, clueless, vapid statements all collected in a single film.  It’s not only a love letter to the store, but a big sloppy blowjob for the 1 percent, materialism, superficiality and appalling excess.  There is no counterpoint presented (the closest thing to it is a fleeting quip by Joan Rivers in the first few minutes, “If you take fashion seriously, you’re an idiot” or words to that effect).  I rarely get offended by movies, but this movie offended me.  It has nothing to do with how people live their lives, it’s just an empty testament to a dubious establishment.  It’s a feature-length “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous”, but more repetitive and less insightful.

Despite the heaps of praise for the store, never do we get a sense of what makes Bergdorf’s so significant in fashion, or how they rose to that position.  I was left with the impression that if I bought a city block in Manhattan and simply said “no” to more designers than Bergdorf’s does, I’d beat them at their game and be the new king of luxury fashion retail.  I’m sure this isn’t true, but you wouldn’t know it from the film.  All we know is that they are very very selective, but we get very little insight into what drives those selections, and why they’re important.

One interesting character emerges: Betty Halbreich, a personal shopper (pictured above).  She tells insanely rich people what to wear for a living.  But even she is only interesting because she has some wit and personality.  We don’t learn anything about her talent, if she actually has any.

A quarter-assed attempt at a narrative is built through sequences building up to the unveiling of the holiday windows.  Bergdorf’s is apparently legendary for their creative and striking window displays, and they are actually kind of neat.  It is a look into creativity (albeit a creativity that seems to depend largely on excess and opulence) that we don’t get regarding the fashion.  At least the store is contributing something to the world by providing something for passersby to admire (for most of them, however, the clothes on display will be well beyond their reach).

But there’s so much more I could criticize.  I haven’t even mentioned the narration (by William Fichtner, for some reason), which mysteriously comes out of nowhere from time to time.  I think the first time it happened was about 20-30 minutes into the film, just like… “Oh, we have a narrator now?”  Then he goes away, only to return sporadically to provide more inconsequential background non-information that could have easily been provided by one of the multitudes of interviewees.  Or there was the one guy who couldn’t comprehend what high heels had to do with feminism.  Or the guy with the rambling John Lennon story, of which there is no point except “a celebrity spent a whole lot of money”.

Last week, in anticipation of this screening, I watched The Store by the acclaimed documentarian Frederick Wiseman.  That is a marvelous film, without talking heads or narration, exploring many more facets of the luxury retail industry.  I understand that Miele is not looking to make a film critical of the fashion world, he wants to celebrate.  But if you want some counterpoint to all this vacuous slobbering over wealth and exclusivity, I recommend you seek out Wiseman’s film.  It’s quite hard to find, though, so I will also recommend The Queen of Versailles as a very good commentary on the grotesqueries of material excess.  You may enjoy this film if you have a strong love of high-end fashion, or just enjoy hearing Michael Kors and Isaac Mizrahi make bitchy, self-satisfied remarks… but I doubt you will learn a single thing from it.  Rating: Crap (28)


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