Film Review: The Gospel According to André

Kate Novack has all the necessary ingredients for a fascinating study of one of the fashion world’s seminal players in her documentary, The Gospel According to André.  Sadly, however, Novack never quite manages to get under the skin of the films titular subject, and the end result leaves little food for thought.

The Gospel According to André chronicles the rise of the larger than life, both in character and physical stature, fashion editor André Leon Talley from the segregated south to the fitting rooms and runways of the fashion elite.  Weaving together archival footage and talking heads from A-list designers and fashion magazine editors, Novack reflects on André’s forty-year career and the contributions he has made to the fashion world.

Herein lies the problem, the documentary never manages anything beyond a reflection.  André always feels at a distance.  A documentary about a gay black man with such apparent presence and history who has risen to the cultural and professional status at which he exists in a world that is renowned for its exclusivity demands a more thorough and personal approach.  Instead, we’re stuck with interviews from Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford and Anna Wintour that don’t offer up much more beyond platitudes. 

Much of the documentary and those who feature in it dedicate their time to explaining that André is more than personality, but little time is accorded to showing it.  Novack loosely structures Gospel around the 2016 presidential election, and it quickly becomes clear how important it, and politics in general, are to André.  And yet, it’s a subject that is never touched on.  Here is a multi-dimensional man, layered and complicated, flattened by Novack’s casual approach.

There are moments, although brief, in which the André’s vulnerability shines through.  In one scene he recounts the effects of the racist back-chatter that circulate around him as he worked to make a name for himself and we glimpse the real journey André undertook to get to where he is.  If only there were more of this.   

Beneath André’s opulent cloaks exists enough intrigue for ten documentaries, with The Gospel According to André, Novackjust about squeezes out one.

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