Friday, June 14, 2019

HALSTON: Astonishing documentary covers all the bases!

By Steve Cruz

The documentary HALSTON, now showing for one week at Landmark’s Chez Artiste Theater, is energetic, content-rich, eye-popping and intriguing. Aside from a “mystery woman”/narrator, (who might have rescued Halston’s archival videos from destruction, but it’s never made clear) the film is strong and steers clear of sentimentality.

From his friendships with Andy Warhol (they worked together at Bergdorf Goodman), to celebrity devotees and praise from former associates, this is Halston: design and marketing genius, mercurial temper, drugs and AIDS and all. No subject is taboo, which is refreshing when one considers how many documentaries suffer from “carefulness.”

This film benefits from a strong cinematic legacy: that of Frédéric Tcheng (director, producer, writer, editor). The French-born filmmaker’s 2015 directorial debut, DIOR AND I, was distributed worldwide to much acclaim. Tcheng co-directed DIANA VREELAND: THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL, and co-produced/co-edited VALENTINO: THE LAST EMPEROR.

HALSTON is energetic, tightly edited, keeps track of its story and multitude of characters.

If, like me, you know of Halston’s golden-boy good looks from Studio 54 photos and drug exposé, this film will be a revelation.

Halston changed fashion in the 1970s by bringing ease of dressing to women of all body shapes and sizes. He never bragged about his technical tailoring, but some of his most iconic looks were constructed from single pieces of fabric joined at a single seam.

He was among five American designers invited to show in Paris — before which time, U.S. fashion was not represented in the City of Lights. His shows always featured numerous Black models, while Parisian collections featured one, if any.

Halston invented “Hot Pants!”

His reign over fashion lasted over a decade, then the 80s ushered in a new crop of designers whose trademark returned fashion to more tailored and traditional forms: Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, etc.

Perhaps the documentary’s beaming achievement is telling about Halston’s move into corporate circles, how it looked appealing, and how corporate $$$-first types “dealt with him.” The tightening of their iron grip on their “corporate property” is palpable. His futile attempts to rebel are understandable.

Instead of ending with Halston’s ending — death related to AIDS — this doc inserts what most documentaries use as a launch: it retells of his childhood and family life as a child of the Depression living with a stern father and salt-of-earth mother.

This format allows breathing room and takes a pause from the usual slide-into-the-grave tactics.

For showtimes, visit