Documentaries about celebrities strive to pull back the layers and reveal something new about a familiar personality. Either there’s a new story – hopefully heartbreaking – that makes everyone in earshot tear up or a devastating character flaw. The idea is that you can’t really know a person until you can “see” their pain.
The Gospel According to Andre is a documentary about the life of Andre Leon Talley – former fashion editor of Vogue, friend and confident of several fashion icons and a style legend. ALT has a big, charming personality. He knows how to take charge of a room and hold court with various stories of his adventures in the industry: how he became a helper to Diana Vreeland, his stint working for Andy Warhol, how he impressed Karl Lagerfeld who gifted him with hand me downs, etc.
ALT has a more personal story about his grandmother who raised him. He talks about how he learned from her that anyone can have luxury and style. Same with church – seeing people who went to Sunday service in their best (no matter what their lives were like Monday through Friday.) Almost all of his stories tie back into his love of fashion.
Briefly, ALT talks about racism in the industry. That’s not really true. He talks about two incidents in the distant past where something racist was directly said to or about him. The director tries to make the most of this – dwelling on the pain of the memory before moving on.
In appearances that he’s done to promote the film, ALT recounts these stories but they don’t end in him near tears. He tells extended versions where he makes fun of one perpetrator (where is she now? ha!) and explains how he protected his career/reputation in the other situation. I can’t imagine that the director doesn’t have these versions on film somewhere. Why aren’t these in the doc? Why leave us with the image of a man near tears over decades old insults?
There are several interviews with friends. The ones that are most revealing are not from the icons in the industry. You get a since that ALT has been threw a lot – they want you to know that fabulous life has not been easy for him. At the same time, they aren’t trying to tell his personal business.
The director tries to ramp up the tension and drama by weaving the presidential election throughout the film. There are several scenes of Andre and his friends discussing their support for Clinton. Eventually, the scene when the results come in. If you are expecting ALT to rip one of his beautiful caftans and scream/cry in front of the cameras you will be disappointed.
Essentially, ALT’s private life is going to remain his private life – no matter how many cameras follow him around.
Now, if you really want to have fun, after the Gospel According To Andre watch Paris Is Burning. What do they have in common? Poor black people who turn to fashion and luxury, the desire to be elevated (or escape) into the world of haute couture – this is a master thesis waiting to happen.
Or for a slightly different approach, pair Gospel According to Andre with Portrait of Jason. If a young Andre entered the world of Diana Vreeland as an eager student, Jason entered the homes of many wealthy white women as an entertainer/court jester.
Heck, watch all three documentaries and let them turn over in your mind for a bit.
Meanwhile, enjoy this song about the man of the hour: