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    Valentino: The Last Emperor

    Frock you

    Is mid-depression the right time to regale a downtrodden public with "Valentino: The Last Emperor," a film celebrating the extravagant designs and opulent life of fashion frivolista Valentino?


    If Depression-era audiences sought out Hollywood opulence onscreen to help them forget the dire circumstances of their own lives, then "Valentino, the Last Emperor," should be the perfect film for our own Depression era. So why did it ultimately depress the hell out of me?

    Directed by: Matt Tyrnauer.
    Produced by: Matt Kapp.
    Featuring: Valentino, Giancarlo Giammetti, Giorgio Armani, Jeannie Becker, Alessandra Facchinetti, Tom Ford, Karl Lagerfeld, Matteo Marzotto, Gwyneth Paltrow, Claudia Schiffer, André Leon Talley, Donatella Versace, Diane von Fürstenberg, Alek Wek, Anna Wintour.
    Cinematography: Tom Hurwitz.
    Edited by: Bob Eisenhardt.

    Related links: Official site
    Lincoln Plaza
    Broadway between 62nd and 63rd
    CC Cinemas 1,2,3
    1001 Third Avenue

    Until now, his last name, Garavani, has been lost behind the splendor that was (and is) Valentino, a couturier incapable of creating an outfit that wasn't as beautiful and expensive as it was frivolous. He once dressed such screen stars as Audrey Hepburn, Liz Taylor and Sophia Loren along with such real-life royalty as Jackie Kennedy Onassis, and Princess Di, in handmade, one-of-a-kind masterpieces. And some of those early creations still show up on today's red carpets as gorgeous retro oddities.

    Valentino also invented the concept of "prêt-à-porter" — ready-to-wear — clothing for the rest of us. But this film is not about those rags.

    A product of the swinging sixties, the incredibly handsome Valentino became a media darling whose fifteen minutes of fame lasted a full 45 years and culminated in a three-day spectacle, worthy of a Roman emperor. And while the film presents Valentino as a gifted fashion house Caesar, he is also revealed to be as petulant and spoiled as Nero, if not as warped as Caligula. "Apres moi, le deluge," he jokes in 2007, unaware of the encroaching economic downfall, but smart enough to keep his empire dry by retiring from the couture portion of his business after the collection we watch him put together.

    Valentino: The Last Emperor  
    In 1960, the year of Fellini's "La Dolce Vita," Valentino met Giancarlo Giammetti, his equally gorgeous longtime life companion and business partner. This is a man who always says, "Valentino thinks this" or "Valentino does that," whether discussing his partner, his lover or their business, since all are a single entity to them. First-time filmmaker Tyrnauer, a Vanity Fair correspondent who previously wrote a long magazine piece on Valentino, says he wanted to make a film not about fashion, but about the long relationship between Valentino and Giametti. He has done both, since a retrospective of their life is a retrospective of their combined career — replete with a stunning panorama of the last 50 years in fashion.

      Valentino: The Last Emperor
    There's more than a touch of Fellini in Tyrnauer's film, often setting Valentino's colorful story alongside scenes from the famed filmmaker's black-and-white blockbuster. He also casts the audience in the voyeuristic role of Mastroianni's Marcello, as we follow the eponymous designer in his hedonistic and unbelievably successful life journey. Cue the Nino Rota score. To paraphrase Quentin Crisp, Valentino and Giametti are the "stately homos" of world fashion, with villas and estates so movie-beautiful, they could be stage sets. No cost is spared for elegance and style, just like Valentino's designs. It has been said that in Italy there are only two real celebrities: Valentino and the pope. (Take that Sophia Loren!)

    If Depression-era audiences sought out Hollywood opulence onscreen to help them forget the dire circumstances of their own lives, then "Valentino, the Last Emperor" should be the perfect film for our own Depression era. "I know what women want," says the man with the George Hamilton tan. "They want to be beautiful." And God knows, Valentino has made women look beautiful. But as gorgeous as the film is, "Valentino" managed to depress the hell out of me! I don't have the bank account for even a room at a villa or a ride on a private plane much less the wherewithal to support five (count 'em five!) identical pug dogs who romp around to their very own Nino Rota theme.

    Valentino: The Last Emperor  
    And it's not just my overweaning jealousy of a lifestyle fit for Louis XIV. For today's fashionista generation, spoiled by "Project Runway"'s backstage peek into a world where young designers are tested on imagination as well as skill, "Valentino, The Last Emperor" must be like a glimpse of Shangri-La. However, the Topeka housewife currently losing her home to foreclosure has also seen a decent-looking gown made from a trash bag and three artichokes. Is she really going to get a thrill watching 27 Italian seamstresses go blind dotting slender tendrils of shirred fabric with a billion sparkles?

    Should Valentino have been denied the talents of Dante Ferretti, Fellini's Oscar-winning set designer, to stage his three-day 75th birthday celebration, an orgy of extravagance that took place in 2007 just before the deluge? Hell no, if you've got it, flaunt it! And they do, which seems to be the overriding theme — whether consciously or not. The film lacks any sense of irony to cut through the exaggerated sense of entitlement. Why should anyone want to plunk down eleven bucks to see some rich Italian guys with tans show off their wealth and bad manners, no matter how stylishly they do it?

    MARCH 21, 2009

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