Thursday, September 13, 2012

Review: ‘Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel’

Awkward but witty, the soon-to-be released Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel isn’t gushworthy, but it captures the intellect and personality of the woman who made “fashion editor” a permanent part of the English language. The documentary film screened last Monday, courtesy of LACMA’s Costume Council, who lasted year featured the highly entertaining Bill Cunningham New York. In contrast, Diana Vreeland is considerably more subdued in its humor. Audio and television interviews take the place of narration, so the viewer literally hears the story of “Mrs. Vreeland” in her own (often exaggerated) words. As to boost the effect, her life is caricatured through clips from Audrey Hepbern’s Funny Face (1957) and the French film Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966).

Unschooled but intelligent and worldly (in the best sense), the dancer-housewife-socialite revolutionized the fashion magazine industry. She made fashion models celebrities, celebrities fashion models, and socio-cultural commentaries a regular feature of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. Having experienced style from the 1920s to the 1980s, she was a natural choice as consultant for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. A woman who knew everyone you might say “worth knowing” and pushed the limits of acceptability in fashion, she nevertheless seemed to be following that which was perfectly logical and acceptable to her. She refused to be confined by a “feminist” label, and she didn’t allow a lack of conventional beauty to deprive her of a passionate marriage.

An unusual and forceful woman, Diana Vreeland certainly makes for a life well worth the study. The film was based on a book by the same name title written by her granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland, and includes interview clips of her sons, grandsons, and even a great-granddaughter curiously reading advice snippets from her Harper's Bazaar column “Why Don't You?” Although “Mrs. Vreeland” apparently wasn’t the most conventional of mothers – in fact, she often was seen as extremely embarrassing – the family isn’t trying to use the film to sway the audiences’ impressions of her. Fact is fact, and corroborated by the testimonies of multiple witnesses (e.g., photographers, models, designers). I think it’s safe to say they’ve preserved her legacy with truth.