Amazing life stories, like that of André Leon Talley, aren’t told every day. He certainly isn’t the first art, fashion and literature-obsessed young black male to skip away from the American South and live a gay, high life in New York, London or Paris. And, as surely as a new documentary about the legendary Vogue fashion editor will light a fire for some impressionable design-obsessed teen, Talley won’t be the last picked-on gay kid to find the means to create himself out of what he loves.
The Gospel According to André (★★★½) smoothly mixes full-access footage of Talley’s celeb-filled social and professional spheres with interviews and narration over photos and stock footage to yield a solid biography.
As a child, André was left by his parents in the care of his strict grandmother, who raised him in the church in Durham, North Carolina. It was a world of Sunday best suits, dresses, and hats for every season — real black American fashion. The bookish youth was inspired as much by his life as by the stories and photos in Vogue magazine, an escape he had to trek across town to flip through every month.
In Talley’s esteemed opinion, fashion uplifts the spirit, and the film, directed by Kate Novack, conveys what he means — and what he’s meant to fashion — by showing him in his element: spreading his wings as a student at Brown University, on the red carpet at the Met Gala, or strolling through the Condé Nast fashion archives.
Talley understands what clothes mean to self-expression, and the filmmakers seem to understand both him and his message. And the fashion plates who pop up throughout the film, from Gisele to Marc Jacobs to Rihanna and Anna Wintour, all seem to get the larger-than-life Talley and his purpose, in a portrait that generally celebrates the garment industry.
On the flip side, the film also mirrors its subject in its brash willingness to plow ahead into subjects he knows you’re wondering about, but might be afraid to bring up, like his weight, which is substantial, and his love life, which he claims is nonexistent, or the discrimination he’s faced in the fashion world.
It hasn’t all been shiny brocade capes for Talley, and yet he’s maintained a brightness that cannot be cloaked. “I live for beauty and style,” he declares. The Gospel According to André speaks his language, and takes on the delightful personality of its voluminous star — but almost nothing could match his style.
The Gospel According to André is rated PG-13, and opens at the Landmark West End Cinema on Friday, June 1. Visit landmarktheatres.com.
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