Kate Novack puts a fashionable subject in focus in her latest documentary.
The biscuit is part of the South. And André Leon Talley’s southern background, partially linked to his love of his grandmother’s cooking, helped usher him into the center of the fashion universe. It’s something he hasn’t forgotten.
A style guru and journalist, Talley is profiled well by Kate Novack in the documentary “The Gospel According to André.” Raised by his strong-willed grandmother, we learn a lot about his unique perspective as Novack gives Talley the mic. It is a fashionable life narrated by the man himself and many of the towering designers of the fashion age.
Like “RBG” released earlier this year, “Gospel” is in love with its subject. But like that profile of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a love fest works best when the character in focus is rich, textured, and undeniably interesting. It also helps that Novack is blessed with so much historical footage spanning the decades. This is a film that, while a must for fashionistas, will also work for fashion novices.
With her second feature, director Novack is blessed to have such intimate access to a fashion expert, whose place in the industry traces the last 40 plus years. While not my area of interest, this film was an education. We hear from designers Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Wintour, and others like veteran journalist Fran Lebowitz as they reminisce about days past that helped build the designs that clothe popular culture. The conversations are natural and consistently entertaining.
But the context for this trip through the last 40 plus years of couture is the larger that life Talley, who managed to find his way from the Jim Crow South to New York City. While he had to work hard to master the French language, a skill that would carry him very far, his clear talent for style was something that could be shaped but was not learned. What becomes clear in this film is that Talley’s a guy with a gift that he is fortunate enough to share with the world.
The structure of the film is in chapters. I often use this structure in my own documentaries, which helps inform and guide the viewer. The chapter I liked most was the one entitled “Black Superhero.” But while this approach is familiar and grounds the narrative, I wish that the linear approach had been a bit more complex. The momentum of the film culminates with the election of Donald Trump, and I wondered if it should have started there. But this quibble is minor, because politics are just are not what the film is about.
A lovely tribute to a significant contributor to the fashion industry, “The Gospel According to André” gives us a glimpse into a beautiful world through the eyes of a gifted soul.