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Posted by on Jan 12, 2015

Netflix Pick: Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel

Celebrated as one of most innovative fashion editors of the 20th century, Diana Vreeland had successful runs at both Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, and later as a consultant with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel, directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland and Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt, chronicles the life of the “Empress of Fashion,” following her early years in Paris and New York, her start as a columnist for Bazaar and her mid-century reign as the one of most prominent fashion editors.

Born in 1903, Vreeland’s life spanned almost the entire 20th century. Through her tangential or direct association with major events and figures, she’s like a true-life Forrest Gump (minus the naiveté and slow wit). As a child, she witnessed the coronation of George V. She claims to have rode with Buffalo Bill while living in the Rocky Mountains. Charles Lindbergh flied over her home in Brewster, New York on his transatlantic flight. She attended the same event as Adolf Hitler in 1930s Berlin. She discovered Lauren Bacall. She served as a fashion advisor to Jacqueline Kennedy. Some of these events, the documentary goes on to explain, were true; others were embellishments that Vreeland perpetuated.

The filmmakers embrace Vreeland’s fictionalized version of herself by incorporating scenes from fictional films like Funny Face and Who Are You Polly Magoo, both featuring characters modeled on Vreeland, into the film. The scenes are cleverly used to illustrate Vreeland’s personality, but it is important to keep in mind that these are film scenes and not documentary footage. I wonder if they were even necessary; I would’ve enjoyed a bit more of the rest of the film’s b-roll, which consisted mainly of Vogue and Bazaar photographs, behind-the-scenes glimpses of the photo shoots, and interviews with Vreeland herself.

Told with wit and charm, and with a run time of under 90 minutes, The Eye Has to Travel is light, fast-paced and laudatory documentary; it’s an enjoyable documentary that gives the viewer a sense of the evolution of 20th century fashion. It’s currently available to stream on Netflix.

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Posted by on Jan 4, 2015

Carlos Saura’s Flamenco, Flamenco

Before I get to the film review, a word about the venue in which I saw it: Anytime I go to a new city, I like to check out one of the local independent theaters. Santa Fe, New Mexico has a recently restored movie theater, the Jean Cocteau Cinema, named after the renowned French film-maker. The cinema originally opened in 1976 and passed through many owners, before closing its doors in 2010. George RR Martin, the author of the popular A Song of Ice and Fire novels (Game of Thrones to HBO viewers) purchased the cinema and reopened it in 2013. With 132 seats and a small screen, Jean Cocteau Cinema is a quaint theater but with a lot of charm. The cafe area includes work from local artists and a bar, and the concessions are inexpensive. Located not far from the heart of Santa Fe, it’s well worth a visit for fans of cinema stopping by the city for a few days.

The night I was in town, the options were either Carlos Saura’s Flamenco, Flamenco or the new James Franco/Seth Rogen comedy The Interview, only in its second day of release and still not being carried by many theaters across the nation. I had already seen The Interview via Amazon Prime, so I went with Flamenco, Flamenco. I thought, “why not?” I had lived in Spain for several years, but never got too invested in the music or dance of Flamenco. Time to learn a little about the artform. The film was billed on the theater’s website as a documentary about the history of Flamenco, featuring interviews and musical performances.

It wasn’t. Instead, Flamenco, Flamenco is an hour and a half journey through Flamenco’s many manifestations, told through a series of stand-alone, highly choreographed and stylized performances. When one performance ends, the screen fades to black and immediately fades in to the next performance. Admittedly, I was surprised, and a little frustrated at first when I realized the concept of the film. I hadn’t done my research, and I wasn’t in the mood for what I felt was essentially a series of music videos.

But that frustration wore off after a few more songs and I began to really enjoy each performance. I found myself sucked into the film. This wasn’t a concert film; these artists weren’t performing for a live audience, nor were they simply doing their performance in front of a camera. These choreographies were meant to be filmed. Saura staged his film in an abandoned train stain in Sevilla and had his subjects perform in front of a series of life-size paintings. The lighting and camera work were deliberate and wonderfully paired to the rhythm and movement.

Like Scorcese’s camera in The Last Waltz, which generally remained on stage with The Band and rarely showed crowd shots, Saura was more interested in establishing an intimacy between the performers and viewer. He captures the eye contact from one piano player to another. A smile of approval from guitarist to his percussionist. The beads of sweat on a dancer’s face. The viewer becomes immersed in the passionate and often intense world of Flamenco.

Flamenco, Flamenco explores the art form’s many representations, giving us a taste of instrumental pieces, a cappella pieces, and dance performances. The artists range from an adolescent dancer to the recently deceased guitar legend Paco de Lucia. Performances from non-Spanish groups spotlight many hybrid forms of the music. The costuming by Austen Junior and staged artwork highlight the visual aesthetic of Flamenco. Taken all together, you have visually masterful film, a celebration of sound, light, and movement.

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