Sunday, April 01, 2018

BFI Flare: Fierce and Fabulous

Not styling myself as a fashionista, I was rather more curious than fascinated by the subjects of Susanne Bartsch: On Top and Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion and Disco. Who were they? Despite growing up in New York, I was not familiar with either the party organiser Susanne Bartsch or the fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez, who came to prominence in the 1970s and '80s. After seeing these films, I thought: who are they? Both documentaries are rather impressed with their subjects, quoting their friends and associates and showing lavish documentary footage. But, I was left nonplussed. Sure, they had lots of mates and famous friends, but why are they important? I guess it depends how much gravitas one gives to party organising and fashion illustration.

At least the setting came through loud and clear. Bartsch appears in her film, holding court as she prepares for a retrospective at the Fashion Institue of Technology. By coincidence this was where Lopez and his partner Juan Ramos, both deceased, attended early in their lives. There was a bit of crossover between the two films, showing us earlier times in New York City that seemed way more lively and fun than the present. So much so that at the Q&A after the Bartsch film, the question arose as to whether New York is stuck in the '80s!

Lopez, who also worked in Paris with Karl Lagerfeld, found models such as Jessica Lange, Jerry Hall and Tina Chow. The former two are quite familiar to me, but Chow was not. Having read up a bit on her, I was saddened to see how young she died. But, all of those questioned in the Lopez film seemed enamoured of him. He seemed to radiate charisma, but didn't want to hang around. Is this something to be celebrated? Seen from another viewpoint, one might find his bevaviour rather insensitive. Perhaps his work was more important to him, but the designs shown didn't seem to me to warrant the reverence the filmmaker displayed. They are now part of an archive shared with the even shadowier (he never spoke in the film) Ramos, who seems to have been the "intellectual" in the partnership. If only we had learned more about their relationship, but the film really tells us nothing about him.

I was also consued by the title: disco music is played throughout the film but from the late 1970s. And the film actually covers the mid-1960s to the mid- 1970s. ????

At least Bartsch gets to tell her story, and we see some very revealing moments, if only to show how demanding she is, but by the end I was thinking how ridiculous all of the scene was: hangers-on described as nightlife personalities, a husband so muscle-bound he can barely walk and a son who seems traumatised by growing up in the Chelsea Hotel. And her signature look? Bushy eyelashes.  It must be exhausting trying so hard to keep up appearances.