Lisa Immordino Vreeland's documentary Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel pieces together her grandmother-in-law's gigantic personality using the main ingredients of fashion magazines: celebrity interviews and pretty photographs. There are also film clips, animations, and plenty of voice-overs, including some brutally rigid impersonations scripted from the famous memoir. In segments when Diana speaks, she twirls some words around, but barks out others, and her careful lunatic phrases mix ad copy with slam poetry, suggesting she's kidding, but she's not. On her husband, Reed: "The most ravishing, devastating, killer-diller." On Buffalo Bill: "This languid, plunging, wonderful, marvelous-looking man." On Twiggy: "Such a personality, such a kid, such a girl, such a wow."
Diana was a consultant to the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute, and before that she was editor in chief at Vogue, and before that she was fashion editor at Harper's Bazaar: "[Bazaar's editor Carmel Snow] saw me dancing at the St. Regis one night," says a voice layered over dreamy xylophone music and stock footage of old-timey nightclubs. "She admired what I had on—Chanel, of course. So she offered me a job. I said, 'But I've never worked before. I've never dressed before lunch.' She said, 'But you seem to know a lot about clothes. Why don't you try it?'" (She did, and Diana's career-propelling column mixed fashion tips with fantastic nonsense. It was called Why Don't You: "Have a white monkey-fur bedcover mounted on yellow velvet?" or "Have your cigarettes stamped with a personal insignia as a well-known explorer did with his penguin?")
The documentary's other bits involve worshipful anecdotes, stunning garments, and loads of cryptic pronouncements, such as when a talk-show host asks Diana if she's a feminist, and she responds: "I don't understand what all this talk is about women being different from the way they ever were. Are they different from the way they ever were?" and then pauses grandly, waiting for the next question. The scene abruptly falls away.
Though it never shows up in this film, Diana has expressed herself on the subject with clarity, and she's a total dick. In Lynda Obst's New York Times article, Diana said, "Women are naturally submissive, naturally dependent on men." And she described an encounter with a women's-rights supporter that starts ugly and only gets worse: "One day, a little girl came in... she had on blue jeans, which I happen to admire, but not hers, and a shirt, which I admire, not hers, and a pullover sweater, not hers... she was a mess... this little girl with her ghastly hair, terrible skin, her frightful clothes, nothing too clean about her..." (Despite her failures to understand women's minds, she had an undeniable brilliance regarding their outsides.)
Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel opens Fri Oct 19 at the Harvard Exit.
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