MRR Review: "Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's"

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A documentary on the Manhattan department store with interviews from an array of fashion designers, style icons, and celebrities.
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MRR Review: "Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's"

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 93 minutes
Release Date: May 3, 2013
Directed by: Matthew Miele
Genre: Documentary

The viewers who are most likely to love director Matthew Miele's documentary are the same people who enjoy flipping through glossy fashion magazines. This is not a hard-hitting documentary that uncovers hypocrisy and scandal in the modern fashion industry. "Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's" does not really criticize or poke fun at its subject. While this might not appeal to moviegoers who want scathing insights, Miele's documentary holds the same slick appeal of popular fashion magazines. Celebrity cameos only intensify the impression that this documentary is an indulgent treat. The film offers a glimpse into a world where dropping thousands of dollars on an outfit to be worn once is completely natural.

Bergdorf Goodman is a longstanding presence on Fifth Avenue in New York, a menagerie for the best and the brightest of the fashion world. Since 1928, the department store has dominated the fantasies of both aspiring fashionistas and established celebrities. In "Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's," designers from Isaac Mizrahi to Diane von Furstenberg explain the store's importance in elaborate detail. If clothes have any prayer of making it in the cutthroat world of fashion, they must first pass the tests found in this temple of luxury goods.

Miele invites viewers to enjoy the sensation of peeking behind the window dressings at the store's dazzling inner sanctum. Although the celebrities who appear in the documentary get top billing, Miele also seeks out the less famous faces that get things done. Linda Fargo is the silvery-haired fashion director who holds a huge portion of the power at Bergdorf's. She chooses which pieces to showcase and which to reject. Watching Fargo make her choices holds all the suspense of a reality TV competition, only with actual designers' livelihoods on the line. Fashion may have a frivolous reputation, but the stressfulness of Fargo's job shows just how intense the industry actually is. All the same, plenty of viewers would be glad to spend a day in Fargo's impeccably fashionable high heels. Despite her visual similarities to Anna Wintour, Fargo has a kind and warm persona. The fashion director adds a little heart to a documentary about an expensive and ruthless game.

Betty Halbreich is one of the documentary's brightest spots. The Chicago native has retained a hearty, sharp sense of humor. Although the longtime personal shopper is on good terms with many posh designers, she does not hesitate to speak her mind. Halbreich is an antidote to the label obsession that can leave a bad taste in some viewers' mouths. It is evident that Halbreich truly loves fashion and the art of expressing oneself through clothing. She seems to know that making an expensive purchase at Bergdorf's can be an act of personal reinvention. Her wit and realness stand out in Miele's documentary. If this film is an elaborate commercial for the department store, then Halbreich may be the most convincing way to attract new shoppers.

Miele also interviews David Hoey, an artist with a unique medium. Hoey works in a fascinating space between advertising and art, designing and executing the lavish window displays that lure shoppers into the hallowed world of Bergdorf Goodman. For millions of people, these fantastical window displays are as close as they will ever get to Bergdorf's. Watching Hoey's keen eye for visual poetry is one of the more fascinating aspects of the documentary.

The promised celebrities who show up in "Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's" add some extra flavor to the documentary. Diminutive fashion icons Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen offer their opinions on the fashion haven. The acerbic Joan Rivers brings her signature humor to the table. Miele also pays homage to Bergdorf's history. In so doing, he ends up touching on the overall history of upscale fashion and celebrity. Anecdotes about deceased celebrities, from Elizabeth Taylor to John Lennon, give the documentary a nostalgic tint. Images from the historical archives are some of the documentary's strongest points.

"Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's" is an unapologetically glittery and flashy anthem to the American consumer. It is a world many moviegoers will never enter themselves, but the fantasy is so engrossing that this barely even matters. The documentary may have benefited from a little more direction, cohesion, and critical analysis of the consumer culture it idolizes. All the same, the film is as fun and fluffy as curling up with a fashion magazine.

Rating: 3 out of 5