Film Review: ‘Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s’

Scatter My Ashes At Bergdorfs

This scattershot docu is an undiluted advertisement for a temple of high-end consumerism

“Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” swipes its title from the caption of a 1990 Victoria Roberts cartoon that appeared in the New Yorker. But nothing satirical or even vaguely skeptical emerges in this slick, flashy kaleidoscope of kowtows to the exclusive Fifth Avenue institution, where $6,000 shoes fly off the shelves and where every designer longs to display his wares. In contrast to recent Tribeca entry “The Director,” Christina Voros’ elegantly composed ode to Gucci and its present-day maestro, this scattershot docu — an undiluted advertisement for this temple of high-end consumerism — jumps skittishly from subject to subject, disjointed and repetitive for all but dyed-in-the-wool fashionistas.

Not that the docu lacks interesting figures or potential structuring points. Bergdorf’s charismatic fashion director, Linda Fargo, described as a warmer, friendlier Anna Wintour, effortlessly commands centerstage for long stretches as she vets new designers’ collections for kindly “maybe later” rejection or “welcome to the family” acceptance. Top personal shopper Betty Halbreich, who helps select celebrities’ clothing for personal wear, TV shows and movies, is entertainingly sharp-tongued and disinclined to suffer fools gladly.

And David Hoey, who designs Bergdorf’s extravagant, fantastical window displays, provides the docu’s throughline as he visits artisans’ workrooms in oddball corners of Gotham, monitoring progress on the varied mosaic, paper, wood and metal components for his whimsical Christmas 2011 windows, elaborate variations on “Carnival of the Animals.” Hoey touts his displays as Bergdorf’s democratic gift to the city, since rich and poor alike can come to gaze in awe and photograph their hallucinatory splendor. But since the docu otherwise proves so haphazardly structured, these cutaways feel forced and arbitrary. Similar structuring devices — such as historical timelines and photographs of the hotel’s opulent top-floor apartment, once inhabited by owner Edwin Goodman and his family — likewise promise more than they deliver.

The amusement value of anecdotes about famous people is somewhat undercut by the film’s emphasis on the monetary windfalls they bring. Elizabeth Taylor’s much-anticipated visit to the fur salon first yields disappointment because she only wants mink earmuffs, then euphoria when it becomes clear she wants them for everyone on a voluminous Christmas list.  John Lennon’s holiday purchase of 70 coats for friends is fondly remembered as last-minute salvation for a poor luxury-fur season. The 2008 financial crash, along with Madoff’s deprivations, causes the permanent disappearance of many longtime customers. But the rich, apparently always with us, soon help Bergdorf recuperate.

Everyone who is anyone in the fashion industry parades through the docu, helmer Matthew Miele delivering in spades as idols Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors, Karl Lagerfeld, Isaac Mizrahi, Jason Wu, Manolo Blahnik, Vera Wang, Marc Jacobs, Giorgio Armani, Bobbi Brown, Christian Louboutin and Dolce & Gabbana, to name but a few, rhapsodize about the importance of inclusion in the Bergdorf lineup. Meanwhile, Susan Lucci, Candice Bergen and Joan Rivers inject their favored-clientele spin on the fabled store. A long black-and-white excerpt from a 1965 Barbra Streisand special, in which she swans through Bergdorf, lends a last-minute touch of class to this mostly graceless undertaking.

Film Review: 'Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's'

Reviewed at Cinema One, New York, May 3, 2013. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 93 MIN.


(Documentary) An Entertainment One release and presentation with Quixotic Endeavors in association with Berney Films. Produced by Mallory Andrews. Co-producer, Barbara Ragghianti, Serge Nivelle. Executive producers, Andrew Malloy, Bob Berney, Jeanne R. Berney, Steve McCarthy, Iris E. Wagner, Chris Walker.


Directed, written by Matthew Miele. Camera (color, HD), Justin Bare; editor, Bare; music, Parov Stelar; music supervisors, Anthony Roman, Lilah Wilson.  


Oscar de la Renta, Michael Kors, Karl Lagerfeld, Isaac Mizrahi, Jason Wu, Manolo Blahnik, Vera Wang, Marc Jacobs, Giorgio Armani, Bobbi Brown, Naeem Khan, Christian Louboutin, Dolce & Gabbana, Susan Lucci, Candice Bergen, Joan Rivers, Linda Fargo, Betty Halbreich, David Hoey. (English, Italian dialogue)

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  1. At this time it appears like Movable Type is
    the preferred blogging platform out there
    right now. (from what I’ve read) Is that what you’re using on your blog?

  2. Scuba Girl says:

    I haven’t seen it yet (full disclosure–I can’t wait to see it, sounds divine) but I don’t believe that Scatter My Ashes At Bergdorf’s is meant to be satirical, snarky or in any way skeptical. What it is meant to be is a loving tribute to a shopping mecca and a temple of luxury retail.

    Not every film has to be The Diary of Anne Frank or Sophie’s Choice, Sometimes, film can even be, you know, entertaining and diverting.

    • Rod Olson says:

      Actually, I just saw “Ashes” this morning… This review hits squarely on the head, could not be more perfectly accurate. I was bummed.

      Let me start here: I love Bergdof. I, like you thought, how “divine” a doc telling the story of the greatest department store in the world. I’m a client. I have had family who have been sales associates and a buyer for one of the BIG named designers featured in the doc. I wanted to love it, trust me– I kept my exceptions a bit low, even, because of the pre-buzz (that’s positive not a prejudice) BUT yikes, it misses. It misses just as described in the review.

      I think, the biggest hurdle, this undertaking had, was the “closeness” of the production team. Andrew Malloy, he is the great-grandson of BG founder Andrew Goodman. He is the writer, producer and executive producer. He got in his own way and got lost and couldn’t re-find the “core” of the story. Movie making is story telling.

      It goes from subject to subject with changing format transitions, ie: from timelines to title cards, to narration (the voice over starts 1/2 through the film) and is poorly written. And then it sort of starts all over again. So we are asking the same questions of the film that Linda Fargo asks of the designers, “Who is she? When would she wear that? How would she wear that? Why would she wear that? What time would she wear that?” She goes on to say, “if the designer cannot give clear answers, let alone her team, then the consumer can’t either.”

      It is about the legendary founder? Is it about the Christmas windows of 2011?, The buyers? The designers? The parties? Barbra Streisand? John Lennon? Liz Taylor? Jackie O? Michelle Obama? The Goodman’s apt on top of the store and their life? The personal shoppers? LInda Fargo? The Neiman-Marcus Group who now owns it? and after all that info is given the movie starts over… meaning, it repeats itself. Ugh. It was an hour too long.

      When you see this film and you should… there are “3 gems” they should have built the movie around and told this story from their perspective. You’ll know who when you see it… It’s an AMAZING and LEGENDARY store and a story worth telling.

      They spend a lot of money on the production and it shows, that’s a good thing! They just got lost in their ability to tell their own story.

  3. I actually did see the 2011 Christmas windows of David Hoey’s in person. (My first, and as yet only time in NYC) I remember them being very striking. It sounds like the reviewer didn’t like the doc, but I wonder if someone who is actually in fashion, and not a movie critic, would see it from a different perspective? I know i myself, a fashion student, am very much looking forward to see it.

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