×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Gospel According to Andre’

Kate Novack offers a loving and absorbing documentary tribute to fashion tastemaker Andre Leon Talley.

With:
Andre Leon Talley, Anna Wintour, Tamron Hall, Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Valentino, Manolo Blahnik, Maureen Dowd, Fran Lebowitz, Eboni Marshall Turman, Will.i.am

“I don’t live for fashion, I live for beauty and style.” So says haute couture eminence grise Andre Leon Talley in the opening seconds of Kate Novack’s “The Gospel According to Andre,” and the director takes those words as gospel. The documentary is a deeply loving, frequently beautiful testament to the former Vogue editor, who rose from humble beginnings in North Carolina to become arguably the high fashion world’s first major African-American tastemaker, as well as the type of multi-lingual, Russian-lit-citing public intellectual who is perfectly at ease gossiping on TV with Wendy Williams. At times hesitant to press Talley on some uncomfortable but important aspects of his life, the film amounts to essentially a long, intimate brunch conversation with its inimitable subject, and for those with even a passing interest in fashion, that should be plenty.

Best known for his long association with Vogue, Talley has long stood out even in the peacockish world of couture: his imposing six-and-a-half-foot profile, usually decked out in lavish capes and jackets, is as much a staple of Paris runways as flashbulbs and champagne flutes. Alongside plenty of vintage footage, Novack follows him around New York City, his home in White Plains, and his hometown of Durham throughout the summer and fall of 2016, giving fly-on-the-wall access as he dresses famous friends and mulls on the upcoming presidential election.

“Gospel” is Novack’s first solo feature, though she co-directed “Eat This New York” with husband Andrew Rossi, whose “Page One: Inside the New York Times” she also produced, and she seems to have an implicit understanding that shot composition is every bit as important in a documentary as in a narrative feature. She and cinematographer Bryan Sarkinen capture some wonderful imagery here, and she does deft work to weave in eye-popping runway footage from fashion eras past and present.

There are plenty of famous names who show up to sing Talley’s praises – Tom Ford, Diane von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs, Manolo Blahnik, and of course Talley’s primary foil Anna Wintour, who credits him for teaching her about fashion in her earliest days as Vogue editor-in-chief – but some of the most memorable anecdotes come from his childhood friends. Through them and Talley’s memories, we get a crystal clear image of the fashionista as a young man, raised by his beloved grandmother, and eternally fascinated with both the issues of Vogue he’d pore over in the library, and the style of his grandmother and her friends as they donned their finest hats every Sunday for church. At one point, Talley goes home to reminisce with his former high school teacher, and recalls her old wardrobe with frightening detail.

In the ‘70s he moved to New York, and got a job answering the phones for Andy Warhol. Described by Fran Lebowitz as perhaps the only Studio 54 regular who wasn’t there for the sex and the drugs, his diligence and passion as a fashion journalist would see him rise to gigs in Paris with Women’s Wear Daily and back in New York at Vogue. But it was through a chance meeting with legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland, whom he regarded as something of a second mother, that he first ascended to the upper echelons. (It’s touching to see Talley, who is on a first-name basis with just about everyone, still refer to her exclusively as “Mrs. Vreeland.”)

The grandson of a sharecropper, Talley is keenly aware of the subtle and sometimes overt ways that racism has followed him throughout his career, from the vapid scenesters who once dubbed him “Queen Kong” to the rumormongers who assumed the only reason someone like Vreeland would welcome a young black man into her inner circle was because she must be sleeping with him. Talley sometimes seems hesitant to talk about these incidents, or at least eager to note that he always managed to rise above them, but he comes near tears when he wonders what his grandmother would have thought of seeing Michelle Obama on the cover of Vogue.

There doesn’t seem to have been much of a boundary between Talley’s personal and professional lives, and his apparent lack of a serious romantic partner is brushed off with a few quick asides. “I have no love life,” he says matter-of-factly, and Novack doesn’t press. But perhaps she just understands when his silence speaks for itself. Though much of the 2016 footage sees Talley discussing last year’s election, he doesn’t mention Donald Trump directly; fast-forward to January of this year, and Talley is live-blogging the inauguration in a living room with Maureen Dowd. He’s almost defiant as he gives a glowing assessment of Melania’s wardrobe for the occasion – chuckling at what a mess his Twitter and Instagram mentions are about to become – but when Trump takes the oath of office he goes quiet, and Novack’s camera zeroes in on him as he watches, his face tracing a path from bemusement to disbelief to head-shaking sadness. Even for a man as voluble and eloquent as Talley, so many things still remain unsaid.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'The Gospel According to Andre'

Reviewed at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF Docs), September 8, 2017. Running time: 94 MINS.

Production: A Magnolia Pictures, Pacific Northwest Pictures, Abstract Productions presentation. Produced by Kate Novack, Andrew Rossi, Josh Braun. Executive producers, Bob Acree, Lindsey Acree, Daniel Pine, Ken Novack, Marianne Novack.

Crew: Directed by Kate Novack. Camera (color): Bryan Sarkinen. Editors: Andrew Coffman, Thomas Rivera Montes. Music: Ian Hultquist, Sofia Hultquist.

With: Andre Leon Talley, Anna Wintour, Tamron Hall, Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Valentino, Manolo Blahnik, Maureen Dowd, Fran Lebowitz, Eboni Marshall Turman, Will.i.am

More Film

  • The Great Outdoor documentary series about

    Farm to Picture: Documentary Series 'The Great Outdoor' Chronicles a Life Gone to Pot

    Cannabis cultivation in the Emerald Triangle, the area in Northern California that has long been a go-to for growers, has a starring role in a new documentary series called “The Great Outdoor.” Funded by Flow Kana, one of the state’s leading cannabis flower brands, filmed by David Zlutnick, and executive-produced by Flow Kana co-founder Flavia [...]

  • 1982 El Gouna Festival

    Egypt's El Gouna Film Festival Puts Arab Helmers at Center Stage

    The upbeat state of Arab cinema will be on the screen and in the balmy air at Egypt’s El Gouna Film Festival (Sept. 19-27), which is steadily gaining traction in its stated ambition to become a key platform and solid driver for Middle-East producers. “This year was one the best for Arab cinema,” says Intishal [...]

  • Star Skipper Paramount Animation

    Meet Star Skipper, Paramount Animation's Magical New Trademark Logo Character

    Studio logos are powerful signals to audiences.  Multiple generations of moviegoers flipping through channels or scanning streaming titles have frozen at the sight of a desk lamp hopping across the screen, because it means a Pixar movie is about to play. Likewise, when a young boy lounging inside a crescent moon casts his fishing line into [...]

  • Sybil

    Cannes Competition Movie 'Sibyl' Finds North American Home With Music Box (EXCLUSIVE)

    Music Box Films has acquired the U.S. and Canadian rights to Justine Triet’s darkly comic drama “Sibyl,” which competed at Cannes and had its North American premiere at Toronto in the Special Presentation section. Represented in international markets by mk2, the film follows the ambiguous relationship between Sibyl, a jaded psychotherapist (Virginie Efira, “An Impossible [...]

  • Kent Jones Directs 'Diane'

    Kent Jones to Exit New York Film Festival (EXCLUSIVE)

    In a surprise move, New York Film Festival’s director and selection committee chair of seven years Kent Jones will step down following this year’s 57th edition, which runs Sept. 27-Oct. 13. The departure comes as Jones’ feature filmmaking career is taking off. Issues of potential conflicts of interest have arisen as his work has moved [...]

  • Ava-Mark-Split

    Ava DuVernay, Mark Ruffalo Selected for SAG-AFTRA Foundation Honors

    Ava DuVernay and Mark Ruffalo have been selected by the SAG-AFTRA Foundation for its fourth Annual Patron of the Artists Awards. The awards will be presented on Nov. 7 at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. The show benefits the nonprofit SAG-AFTRA Foundation and is not televised. Previous SAG-AFTRA Foundation Patron of the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content