REVIEW: DVD Release: Valentino: The Last Emperor

Film: Valentino: The Last Emperor
Release date: 6th September 2010
Certificate: 12
Running time: 123 mins
Director: Matt Tyrnauer
Starring: Valentino Garavani, Giancarlo Giammetti, Nati Abascal, Giorgio Armani, Jeannie Becker
Genre: Documentary
Studio: Optimum
Format: DVD
Country: USA

Matt Tyrnauer invites us to delve behind the seemingly superficial world of fashion and witness, or lament, what was to become the final working year in the life of a style icon.

Single-minded, passionate, pleasant, caring, grumpy, awkward, disillusioned and talented are just a small number of facets on display in this fly on the wall documentary surrounding the lead up to the 75-year-old leathery skinned designer’s forty-five year anniversary as a leading player and brand name in the fashion industry.

Through Matt Tyrnauers seemingly limitless access to Valentino, as well as his life partner Giancarlo Giammetti, we learn how the fashion industry has evolved throughout his lifetime, and how the financial aspects of the business have been virtually swept from beneath his feet. We are allowed access to not only his working environment, studios, runways and shows full of celebrity guests (including the likes of Joan Collins, Gwyneth Paltrow and Liz Hurley), but also his various homes, plus his private jet and elaborate yacht.

We watch him declare his love for crafted style while showing distain for over indulgence and tackiness, before sincerely stating that what women want most in life is to be beautiful. He clearly believes every word he says but others, from a more grounded background, may find some, if not all of his distorted views hard to swallow; especially as the further we are permitted to explore his overtly decadent lifestyle, the further removed from our normal reality he seems to be. Yet this is part of the fun, it can be enjoyable in small doses to watch the mega rich indulge their little idiosyncrasies - for example, Valentino having a special settee on his private jet for his five pug, ironically quite ugly dogs to lounge...

Tyrnauer obviously admires Valentino, his reverence drips from every pore of this well shot documentary, yet despite this, and admirably so, he is also willing to show the designer’s flaws, his humanity and vulnerable side. In fact, this is the film’s strongest aspect - a brave decision, as Valentino could have so easily vetoed the recordings of his bad-tempered, almost childish remarks, and perhaps even limited the camera’s access to areas and meetings that display his less attractive traits. Others too seem open to scrutiny - Giammetti is so laid-back in front of the camera, at points, that he is in danger of toppling over, whilst bad-tempered head seamstress Antoinetta de Angelis never disguises her true feelings when the crew pay her any attention. Yes, they are all passionate, they care about their craft and their tantrums are, for the most part, semi calculated outbursts to enhance the Valentino name and that is, in essence, what has been so beautifully captured by a skilled documentary maker obviously relishing in his task.

On the negative side, the director, as is unfortunately too often the case in recent documentaries, takes it for granted that his audience will have an extensive knowledgeable background of the subject matter on display. Point in case is when the camera enters an enormous room with high walls covered in literally hundreds of dresses designed by Valentino, stretching back to his earliest days. This is our subject’s life, his history and a guide to, not only how fashion has changed over the last four decades, but more so it is a visual demonstration of how he has influenced that very change. Yet, bizarrely, Tyrnauer merely skips over this opportunity with only a few sweeping camera moves and the briefest of narrative. Sadly, a waste of a potentially scene stealing opportunity, and a reinforcement of an attitude rife in the fashion world that the so called rich/elite ‘know’ and we, the underclass, do not ‘need’ to know. That said, there is still plenty to enjoy from merely observing the various, often self-important characters go about their duties, and, in reality, without a working or fan based understanding of this privileged world, although helpful, does little to dilute the overall enjoyment of the piece.

Valentino is an insightful, charming, interesting and occasionally informative documentary structured around one of the most passionate and influential fashion icons of recent times. MG

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