Film Review – The Gospel According to André
The Gospel According to André
The Gospel According to André preaches to the choir and avoids giving any real insights. André Leon Talley was the fashion editor-at-large of Vogue magazine for several years, and he loved his grandmother a lot, which is really all I know about the man after an hour and a half documentary. Even then I had to go to Google to remind myself what magazine he was editor of because the film was so dull I couldn’t bother to remember. He is a man who seems perfect as a subject for a documentary due to his his larger than life image as someone who comes from nothing and leaves a lasting impact. He has a passion that most people can only dream of and yet the film doesn’t really explore that at all.
There are the talking heads of friends and experts that we see in most documentaries yet so many of them are only repeating how brilliant he is and how amazing it is that a large gay black man from the segregated South has been able to defy the odds to do what he has accomplished. That is an impressive feat indeed, but saying it over and over again fails to clarify what makes him so good at what he does or what it really takes, we just know that it is true. It becomes not just repetitive but actually annoying to keep hearing the same things with no additional context.
When André speaks about himself and his life the most interesting aspect was talking about his Grandmother who raised him and accepted him in ways that others couldn’t. She let him dress up in ways many other boys would have been questioned about, and she let him be himself while also being a strong force for him. It is told that he attended Church often and enjoyed dressing fancy for the event. A pastor even claims that his religion helped define him, yet André himself seems very muted on that subject. He states liking the dressing up aspect and we see him go to church and feel a connection to his Grandmother there, but to say it affected his work was an odd statement that I wished the film had done a better job of providing details since the pastor says it with such intensity.
Fleshing things out is where the film really falters. A friend mentions that a lack of having a partner in his life is probably André’s biggest regret and he himself mentions that but that the work really took too much of his time. Here it was really starting to get to the man but then immediately left it before the director or André could dwell on it. Mostly we just spend time on his journey to becoming part of the fashion world. At first, knowing nothing about the man, I couldn’t tell if he was a designer or writer for a fashion magazine until he really got into his story. The beginning of the film bogs down in how he likes to present himself in his own outfits for events and in general talking about fashion and showing off outfits that are now kept in fashion museums. This may be interesting for those who love fashion and want to hear from one of the world’s leading experts but for a lay person like me it lacked any real insight into the film’s subject beyond that he loves fashion, which has already been established.
Even his journey from poor boy to fashion icon is handled strangely since, despite everyone saying how amazing it is that André made it this far, it never seems like it was that hard. So much of the struggles that are implied are just that, implied. We never see what it was like for him early on, only that he is brilliant and he moved up the line. It is very anti-climatic in its telling and makes his success seem more preordained than any kind of struggle. The most telling moment is him mentioning getting Vanity Fair to do a Gone with the Wind shoot to have black models do the white people’s roles and white people do the black people’s roles as a way to be more empowering to African people. While it resulted in some very interesting photos the film only touches on this experience and then leaves this topic just as quickly.
To pad things out, all of a sudden the 2016 Presidential election takes center stage, focusing on André worrying about Trump winning. It has nothing to do with André’s life, and appears that it was added because they were making the film while the election was going on and the aftermath was such a big deal they decided to include it. At best we see he is depressed with the results like many Americans were but there is nothing about his sadness that gives any further insight into him or his life. It is an event like it was for every American, no more or less.
What director Kate Novack was going for here is a mystery to me. Like many directors you can tell she loves her subject and yet maybe that love actually hurt her in the end. For those of us who do not know André she fails to make a compelling case for why we should love him by making his life seem less impressive than it is. And for those who do love him I can’t imagine they are gaining any more insight into him beyond any interviews he has given or articles he has written telling of his love of fashion and why. As for me, I forgot about him and that is probably the biggest shame there is.