Halston is a new documentary film directed by Frédéric Tcheng. The movie follows the eponymous fashion designer as he rises to prominence and dominance in the fashion industry in the 1970’s until his empire goes up in flames as a result of questionable decision-making. It has played at festivals including the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
Halston’s story is undeniably intriguing because he was, at one time, one of the most well-known names in fashion. It is interesting to see his rags-to-riches story and how he defied the odds to become a revolutionary figure in the industry in which he worked. However, his story also serves as a cautionary tale because of how he let his ambition go too far, ultimately causing his downfall.
The film does a solid job of making the audience respect and admire him for his accomplishments and the struggles he faced, and pity him for his mistakes, yet the movie fails to provide a satisfying enough glimpse into him as a person as opposed to simply a fashion icon. To fix this, the film could have spent more time exploring his personal life, such as his sexuality or his experience with AIDS.
One of the more ambitious parts of the movie is its narrative device, but this is sadly a swing-and-a-miss. The film starts out by saying that it is a documentary, but the narrator is fictional. This is an interesting concept, but you are left wondering what it actually does for the story because this character is used so inconsistently and insignificantly that the movie would have been better off with a more straightforward presentation.
The pacing of the film is somewhat weak too. The beginning of the movie does drag a bit. For as much as this film wants to avoid being a straightforward biography, it does fall victim to cliches and documentary tropes more often than you would expect. The second half of the movie, where a majority of the conflict takes place, is much more interesting but feels rushed. As a whole, the film needed more balanced pacing.
The interviews in the movie are very interesting, but you will be left wanting more of them. It is nice to see familiar faces that worked with Halston, such as actress Liza Minnelli, presenting their stories and perspectives on his life and career, but the film doesn’t take full advantage of this. A few more familiar faces make appearances, but none are as recognizable or extensively used as Minnelli.
On a technical level, the movie was quite well-done. Although the storytelling is relatively straightforward, the methods which the filmmakers used to tell that story are quite excellent. The cinematography, during both the interviews and the staged narrator moments, is very good, and the editing is great.
Overall, Halston was a solidly-made documentary, but it takes a disappointingly straightforward approach to such an impressive story. Nonetheless, Halston’s importance in the industry means that anyone interested in fashion will likely find this film to be fascinating.
Halston is now playing in theaters.