The First Monday in May
2016, PG-13, 91 min. Directed by Andrew Rossi.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 15, 2016
The basement placement of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute of New York makes for a pretty irresistible metaphor for how high up on the priority list fashion once was for the Met. The “Is fashion fine art?” debate may rage on – or, if not rage, exactly, whatever it is snooty curators do in low tones – but there’s little doubt that fashion draws crowds, as evidenced by the 2011 Alexander McQueen retrospective that attracted a record-breaking 660,000-some visitors.
Every May, the Costume Institute mounts a major exhibition, ceremoniously ribbon-cut with the annual Met Ball, a themed party and fundraiser thronging with fashion designers, celebrities, and socialites – the “Super Bowl of social fashion events” declares Vogue fixture André Leon Talley. The First Monday in May tracks the months of concurrent planning leading up to 2015’s “China: Through the Looking Glass” exhibition and gala.
If somebody slammed a door shut on Andrew Rossi’s camera, you can’t tell from the edit; the film tenders the same confident, but not clubby, insider’s perspective as his 2011 doc Page One: Inside the New York Times. The crew tracks curator Andrew Bolton, a British expat in high-hemmed pants, as he nimbly negotiates a production of mammoth proportions, as well as legitimate concerns over colonialism and caricature in a Western-mounted exhibition of Eastern (or Eastern-influenced) culture. And then there is the Met Ball, just as obsessively curated by Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour and her team. (Poor Josh Hartnett, who’s dismissed as a priority guest: “What has he done lately? Nothing.”) The whole film is a delicious excuse to gawk – at the magnificent costumes, at the diplomatic dance of museum personnel and party planners, and at the sumptuous squish of so many egos sharing space.