What do Wong Kar-wai, Anna Wintour and Rihanna have in common? The Metropolitan Museum of Art's famous charity gala, which takes place on the first Monday in May. Don't miss the documentary about the spectacular fashion exhibition - including the drama behind the scenes.
The documentary "The First Monday in May" follows the preparation for one of the world's most prestigious fashion exhibitions; the Metropolitan Museum
of Art's annual charity event which takes place the first Monday in May. Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton plan it every year together with Vogue editor Anna Wintour, and the goal in 2015 was to surpass the legendary Alexander McQueen exhibition, which so far had raised the largest amount of dollars to the museum.
The film follow the preparations with movie director Wong Kar Wai as their advisory, and different degrees of involvement from Baz Luhrmann, fashion designers Karl Lagerfeld, Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano along with a variety of actors and pop icons crowned by Rihanna performing at the gala. There is also a number of Chinese officials, journalists and cultural advisories helping out with this year's theme; "China: Through The Looking Glass" - a compilation of Western fashion designs inspired by Asia.
The gala is highly exclusive with only 500 guests attending, including celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Chloë Sevigny and George Clooney seated at each table. The film gives a unique glimpse into a world few of us have access to, although it does not dig much deeper than that.
Director Andrew Rossi asks early on if fashion is art. We learn that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a long tradition of collaborating with Vogue, cemented by the former Editor-in-Chief Diana Vreeland, who transferred from the magazine to the museum. We also learn that the institute hosting all the fashion creations is tucked away down in the basement, seemingly at the bottom of the museum's hierarchy. Karl Lagerfeld explains that Coco Chanel and other leading fashion designers of the time never saw themselves as artists, but tailors.
The question of fashion's place in art is left without much further exploration, as we are pulled into the frenzy of preparations. The pressure of getting everything done in time increases, as the night of the gala is rapidly approaching. During the conversations with the Asian art department and the Chinese dignitaries and journalists however, the team encounter new and more acute dilemmas.
The exhibition is, by it's very nature, in danger of becoming a western celebration of Orientalism. The designs are all inspired by Western movies and Western ideas of Asia, and the entire design concept is based on old-fashioned history, patterns and designs. But when asked how the new China looks like then, everyone remain silent - no one has an answer.
There is also political issues to consider when the team has to decide how Mao should be portrayed - can his image be displayed together with the images of Buddha, since he to some extent has replaced or at least equated the importance of his ideology with that of religion? Here Wong Kar-wai is putting his foot down - placing Mao next to Buddha would be perceived as an insult. It's decided that Mao will be placed by himself, in the room outside the images of Buddha.
However, also the political issues evade any deeper analysis, as the film continues to focus on the practical preparations. What's shown visually is a true pleasure for the eye, from the fantastic fashion creations emerging from the basement, one after the other, to the decoration of the museum premises, which transform the rooms to spectacular interior designs that will make your jaw drop.
But just like Wintour mixes high and low to include a wide range of guests from Oscar-awarded actors, haute couture designers and pop icons to social media celebrities, Rossi mixes the spectacular visuals with pettiness behind the scenes, such as the Vogue team making fun of who they don't want at the gala, or loud complaints that Amal Clooney didn't stop to talk. When the camera follows a chatting Justin Bieber around at the gala, it almost feels like work by paparazzi.
The questions of fashion being art, or how Western values portrays China, feel mostly like unexplored side tracks. The core of the documentary is simple and straightforward - how to prepare one of the world's most famous fashion exhibitions. Along the way, we encounter the most famous celebrities in film, fashion and music. The documentary pulls you in, and even gives a bit of an adrenalin kick towards the end. This is not a film that requires much from the viewer. However, if you are in the mood for something light and also happen to like fashion, this is an easy choice. After all, it's most likely your only shot at being invited to the hottest and most spectacular fashion event in New York!
"The First Monday in May" is a beautiful and well-narrated documentary which I give three and a half stars out of five. It's currently playing in movie theatres. Enjoy!
By Annika Andersson, originally written for MovieZine