UK Release Date: 28th September 2018
Runtime: 94 minutes
Director: Kate Novack
Writer: Kate Novack
Starring: André Leon Talley
Synopsis: The life story of fashion journalist and prominent Vogue writer André Leon Talley, who has spent decades as one of the most beloved voices in the fashion world.
Throughout the enjoyable new fashion documentary The Gospel According to André, the central subject is described as “larger than life” and an “operatic figure” in the industry. That subject is André Leon Talley, who has spent decades as a prominent figure in the world of fashion journalism, serving as Anna Wintour’s right-hand man at Vogue magazine. His vibrant personality and very unique sense of personal style makes him an immediately compelling figure, not least when the doc’s first talking head is none other than fashion icon Marc Jacobs himself.
Kate Novack‘s take on Talley’s life is a fairly freewheeling and loosely structured variation on the cradle-to-grave documentary, wandering off to explore particular elements of the man’s career without much of a coherent narrative running through it. The closest thing to a consistent thread is the Trump-Clinton election battle, which comes to the surface frequently, including in a bracing final series of scenes in which Talley looks utterly defeated and broken as he live blogs the inauguration for the New York Times.
It’s when Talley’s emotions are the focus that this documentary really flies. He looks at a magazine cover featuring Michelle Obama and tears up imagining how proud his Southern grandmother would’ve been to see a black woman in such a prominent position. This is a man who remembers where he came from and never takes his current platform for granted. As much as he’s a big, eccentric bloke with a lot to say, Novack finds plenty of room in The Gospel According to André to show Talley as a down to Earth guy.
And it’s because of Talley’s enjoyable, charming presence that the movie works. Outside of its unconventional and brilliant protagonist, this is a largely competent and rather workmanlike documentary. It moves through the major story beats of Talley’s life, punctuated by talking head interviews with figures from the fashion world and Talley’s friends. It’s clear that Talley is a figure revered by just about everybody he has ever met and, although that’s lovely, it occasionally leaves the documentary feeling like a bit of a love-in, lacking the bite of docs focused around slightly more controversial pop culture figures.
All of that leaves The Gospel According to André locked in a constant battle to justify its own existence as a big screen feature. Thankfully, Talley is an engaging and colourful presence whose charisma largely makes up for any of the gaps in the narrative structure where conflict should be. He’s a flamboyant figure who’s more than a match for the wild excesses of the glamorous fashion industry, and he serves as a solid anchor point for this film, even if it has its share of shortcomings.
Pop or Poop?
One of fashion’s most beloved figures gets the big screen documentary treatment in The Gospel According to André, which traces the life and career of Vogue journalist André Leon Talley. Kate Novack’s movie never quite pushes above the heights of being a very basic version of Talley’s story, but the central figure himself makes up for that dramatic deficit with his warmth, humour and general lust for life.
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