×

Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston

The fascinating story of Roy Halston, the iconic designer who defined 1970s fashion in America, is patchily recounted in "Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston." .

With:
With: Whitney Sudler-Smith, Liza Minnelli, Andre Leon Talley, Ralph Rucci, Cathy Horyn, Stephen Burrows, Bob Colacello, Pat Cleveland, Anjelica Huston, Nicky Haslam, Boaz Mazor, Billy Joel, Nile Rogers, Phillip Bloch, Ming Vauze, Naeem Kahn, Amy Fine Collins, Diane Von Furstenberg, Chris Makos.

The fascinating story of Roy Halston, the iconic designer who defined 1970s fashion in America, is patchily recounted in “Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston.” In sartorial terms, the fabric is to die for, but helmer Whitney Sudler-Smith’s docu follows a banal pattern, while the finishing lacks finesse. Nevertheless, given the popularity of similar fashion-themed docus, pic should do all right in boutique distribution, and better still when it’s ready to wear on ancillary.

As per the hokey subtitle, helmer and onscreen guide Sudler-Smith structures the docu as if it were a mystery being worked out piecemeal, interview by interview. Happy to let the seams show, particularly the informal moments interviewees might have expected to be edited out, Sudler-Smith doesn’t disguise the fact that he hits a brick wall in a few instances, as when he fails to obtain access to Halston’s onetime muse, jewelry designer Elsa Peretti.

Nevertheless, he scores a coup by getting several big names to open up on camera, such as Liza Minelli, who gushes endearingly if somewhat vapidly about how Halston was her best friend, while former Halston model Anjelica Huston provides a more detached but still affectionate perspective. American Vogue’s editor-at-large, Andre Leon Talley, barely disguises his disdain for Sudler-Smith’s skimpy knowledge of fashion, but graciously explains why Halston’s designs were so groundbreaking and skillfully made. Fashion writer Cathy Horyn also chips in intelligently on context.

Others — including former Interview magazine editor Bob Colacello, drag artiste Ming Vauze and photographer Chris Makos — obligingly dish some dirt about Halston’s lavish lifestyle of drugs, sex and disco without ever quite going into the sordid, juicy details some auds might crave. All in all, the pic paints a compelling if sadly all-too-familiar portrait of a gifted artist victimized by his own hubristic greed, whose name was everywhere even after he lost the rights to it. Nevertheless, the man himself remains something of an elusive figure here, perhaps because so few wanted to speak ill of the dead.

Sudler-Smith has an irritating habit of dragging in interviewees who have almost nothing to do with the subject, and isn’t really interesting enough as an onscreen presence to justify the amount of face time he’s allotted, but at least he had the smarts to hire a crack team of archival researchers. In this respect, “Ultrasuede” reps an embarrassment of riches, offering access to the elegant realm of high fashion as well as the bacchanalian excess of Studio 54. Editor John Paul Horstmann deserves kudos for expertly weaving together interview material and illustrative clips, as does music supervisor Thomas Golubic for getting rights to key disco tracks that set the party swinging.

Popular on Variety

Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston

Production: A Verve Pictures (in U.K.) release of a Vainglorious Pictures production. (International sales: CAA, Los Angeles.) Produced by Whitney Sudler-Smith, Adam Bardach, Tim Maloney, Nicholas Smith. Executive producers, Shawn Simon, Mark Urman. Directed by Whitney Sudler-Smith. Written by Anne Goursaud, Sudler-Smith.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Scott Miller; editor, John Paul Horstmann; music, Christopher Franke, Edgar Rothermich; music supervisor, Thomas Golubic; sound (Dolby Digital), Irin Strauss; sound designer, Sound Guru; re-recording mixer, Chris David; visual effects, Go Aoyama; associate producers, Nathan Cornett, John Paul Horstmann, Alisha Takahashi. Reviewed on DVD, Hoveton, U.K., Sept. 20, 2011. (In Tribeca Film Festival.) Running time: 93 MIN.

Cast: With: Whitney Sudler-Smith, Liza Minnelli, Andre Leon Talley, Ralph Rucci, Cathy Horyn, Stephen Burrows, Bob Colacello, Pat Cleveland, Anjelica Huston, Nicky Haslam, Boaz Mazor, Billy Joel, Nile Rogers, Phillip Bloch, Ming Vauze, Naeem Kahn, Amy Fine Collins, Diane Von Furstenberg, Chris Makos.

More Scene

  • The Old Beverly Hills Post Office'Wallis

    The Wallis Cancels April and May Programming in Response to Coronavirus Pandemic

    The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts has cancelled its upcoming programming for the months of April and May in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The performing arts center located in Beverly Hills had already wiped its calendar and closed its premises from public access for the remainder of March, but the center made [...]

  • Watch Rosie O'Donnell and Elton John

    Watch Rosie O'Donnell, Elton John Accept Their GLAAD Media Awards

    The GLAAD Media Awards were supposed to happen Thursday night in New York City, but the LGBTQ media watchdog group canceled the 31st annual festivities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. However, GLAAD doesn’t want the day to go unnoticed, so the organization has released exclusive video to Variety of Elton John accepting the [...]

  • Tyra Banks Postpones ModelLand Theme Park

    Tyra Banks Postpones ModelLand Theme Park Opening

    Tyra Banks has put smizing on hold. The “America’s Next Top Model” host is postponing the opening of ModelLand, a theme park opening in Santa Monica, Calif. A new launch date has not been announced. “In light of the recommendations of the CDC, WHO, and California Governor Gavin Newsom, we have decided to postpone the [...]

  • AIDS/LifeCycle Canceled Due to Coronavirus Concerns

    AIDS/LifeCycle Canceled Due to Coronavirus Concerns

    This year’s AIDS/LifeCycle has been canceled. The annual bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles is considered the largest single HIV/AIDS fundraising event in the world and benefits the Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SFAF). Last year’s ride raised more than $16 million. Past participants have included Rep. Adam [...]

  • Variety's Power of Women gift bag

    Variety's Power of Women Event Postponed

    In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Variety, the iconic entertainment business news media company, will postpone its high-profile Variety Power of Women: New York from April 3 to July 9. The accompanying magazine that includes the New York Women’s Impact Report will publish on July 7. Variety’s Power of Women events in Los Angeles and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content