HALSTON, US, 2019. Directed by Frederic Tcheng. 105 minutes, Rated M (Coarse language)
Initial response to this documentary would depend on whether the audience was aware of Halston, celebrated fashion designer, Roy Halston Frowick, his career, his life and achievement. He opted for the name Halston which became the title of his company and reputation.
It is a documentary well-made, a great number of photos, film and video clips, a wide range of talking heads, especially from many of the models who worked for Halston and from his close association with Liza Minnelli Marisa Berenson, Andy Warhol, designer and film director, Joel Schumaker. There are also a great number of interviews with Halston’s business associates, many of them very Frank in expressing likes and dislikes, approvals and disapprovals.
For those in the know and for those who follow the history of fashion in the 20th century, there is a great deal to interest, Halston’s origins in the midwest, born 1932, his emergence in the 1950s as a designer for Bergdorf Goodman in New York City. He became a celebrated name, determined to succeed, a man of talent, joining French fashion designers in Paris and overcoming suspicions and opposition. He joined Max Factor. The film traces his business associates, becoming part of Norton Simon, and his decision to become a designer for J.C.Penney stores for the average American customer, his expressed desire to clothe America.
Over the years he designed Jacqueline Kennedy’s inauguration pillbox hat, introduced hotpants, designed uniforms for Branniff Airways and Avis.
On the other hand, the film could serve as a documentary about American business, about American capitalism, Halston himself and his shrewd business moves, not without inviting considerable antagonism, long-standing resentments, moving to different companies, achieving success for them – but, many considering his moves to J.C.Penney disastrous. And, there are many interviews with those associated with these ventures, the bosses, the managers as well as considerable input from his secretaries.
In many ways, the film does not delve into his private life – his homosexuality (and some footage from the time about society’s antagonism towards homosexuals), his relationships, his homes and their artistic luxury, his New York office with its palatial atmosphere, his extravagance in spending money… And, ultimately, the HIV infection, AIDS, some final reconciliation with his family, his death in 1990.
So, this film is a portrait of rise and fall, of living the high life, an American success, American contribution to 20th century fashion.
Which means that the film is not only of interest to audiences who follow fashion but also to audiences who initially know nothing about Halston.
Madman Films. Released September 19th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.