Sunday, July 21, 2013

Double Feature

Twenty Feet from Stardom
Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's

What do sensible people do when the thermometer spikes and the city is in the throes of a heat wave? Go to the movies, of course!

Air-conditioned theaters have provided respite from the summer heat for generations. This posting inaugurates our foray into movie reviews. We're expanding our horizons to give you our take on two recent documentaries. Here we are at the start of our adventure. (Don't worry.  We do remove our hats when the previews start.)

First up? "20 Feet From Stardom", a wonderful documentary about back-up singers, which features not only reminiscences by the back-up singers themselves, but also of those in the spotlights.  Among them: Sting, Mick Jagger, Stevie Wonder, and Bruce Springsteen.  The title refers slyly to how physically close the back-up singers are to stardom, but the stories they tell reveal how hard it is to move out of the shadow and into the light that's only twenty feet away.  Concert footage interspersed throughout the film kept it fresh and moving forward. Darlene Love's career is one of the movie's leitmotifs. However, it is a revelation to learn about many of the other singers, whose voices are imprinted on our brains even if their names are not.  One of those is Merry Clayton. Who hasn't been electrified by her astonishing back-up vocals in The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter"?

Here are some of the major players: Judith Hill (who was scheduled to tour with Michael Jackson), Merry Clayton (who was eight months pregnant when she sang Gimme Shelter), Darlene Love (who was forced to record under many pseudonyms before she finally had the chance to record under her own name), Tata Vega and Lisa Fischer (who has a fascinating unearthly voice). (Photo by Associated Press from

We viewed the movie at the Angelica Theater on Houston Street in Soho which features a bright, airy, spacious cafe with coffees, sodas, pastries and snacks and comfortable seating to pass the time while waiting for our film to begin. Chairs and tables are arranged for maximum people watching.

Check out Valerie's very Andy Warhol soup can shoes - and matching red and white Coca Cola bottle. Um, can. Um...

If you're accustomed to dark theater lobbies with velvet curtains, inch thick blood red carpet and rococo wallpaper, you can see the Angelica is a pleasant change from all that.

Above, Jean and accessories; Below, we thought you'd like a close-up of how a master matches the colors of her bracelets with the colors of her dress. Caution! Experts at work!

Our Rating? Jean gives it 5 out of 5 Silver Stars! It was an utter delight: well paced, beautifully edited, tremendously entertaining, Didn't want it to end. What more could anyone want in a movie? Valerie's new at this ratings thing, and happily agrees with Jean, although she suspects she should be furrowing her brow (oh, wait, no, that's how you exacerbate your wrinkles; never mind...) and saying something deep about the cinema verite, or commenting on the high profiles of documentaries these days, and how they're less costly to produce, but also harder to fund in today's Bottom Line world.

Would you like to see the official preview? (Film producers are no fools. See whose face they've put on a preview about women (and men) whose faces and names most of us don't recognize?)

Second Movie:
On the Fourth of July holiday, along with our friend Sara Bacsh, in from Israel, we went to the East Village to see "Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's", a film by Matthew Miele that brought to the screen the book "Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf Goodman" by Sara James Mnockin and Holly Brubach. Cinematography and editing by Justine Bare were top notch.

Sara made the necklace she's wearing in the photo below. Hard to tell, but it's a garland of miniature corks, all attached by hand. There must be four hundred of them. (Just guessing.)

Recognize any of the interviewees below who appear in the film?

In the lobby of the theater, while waiting for Valerie and Sara, Jean snapped this picture of these two ladies dressed patriotically and quite stylishly for the holiday in red, white and blue.

What began as a delightful trip down memory lane by members of one of the original founding families (the Goodmans, who long ago bought out the Bergdorfs), the documentary provided an insider's view of the behind-the-scenes workings of a store that has been called America's premier emporium. A number of designers (Tom Ford, Thom Browne, Michael Kors, Vera Wang, Jason Wu, Karl Lagerfeld, Oscar de la Renta), stylists/designers (Rachel Zoe and Patricia Field), customers (Joan Rivers, Nicole Richie, Iris Apfel) and writers (Amy Fine-Collis) all weigh in on what Bergdorf Goodman means to them. Reading between the lines and sometimes hilarious quotes are the politics of the fashion world with de facto head Linda Fargo (her official title is Senior Vice President, Fashion Office and Store Presentation), who can make or break a designer's career. We have to show you a picture of Linda, because not only is she gorgeous, she also has fabulous gray hair. (This photo from Getty Images.)

"If your clothes are not at that place, then they have no future. Sorry.", says Isaac Mizrahi in the film. Fargo, by all accounts, is portrayed as the polar opposite of the aloof Anna Wintour. As the 800-pound gorilla in New York retailing, Bergdorf Goodman requires exclusivity of their designers in the New York market, which over the years caused some heavy hitters like Dolce & Gabbana to pass on Bergdorf's, and to be rejected, as in the case of Halston, who started designing an economical line for JC Penney. (Below, Bergdorf Goodman wrapped like a gift. Photo from

In the lobby of what is now a modernized multiplex theater is the wonderfully ornate ceiling, which, like Bergdorf Goodman, harkens back to an earlier era, which in this instance was as a single-screen cinema.

Octogenarian personal shopper Betty Halbreich (below) stole the show. She was all business, as serious as a heart attack, and is still one of the store's highest earners, benefitting both her own and the store's bottom line. Another Mizrahi line is a quote from Betty's appraisal of one of her customer's clothing choices. "Oh, that's terrible, really terrible", he quotes her as saying to the client. "But buy it, because it's not as terrible as what you came in wearing." Stories about Yoko Ono and John Lennon's Christmas Eve purchase of dozens of fur coats, and Elizabeth Taylor's order of 200 pairs of mink ear muffs are the stuff of legend. Such extravagances made the difference between ho-hum and spectacular year-end sales figures.

Since we have covered the Fifth Avenue store windows several times in our blog, we especially appreciated one of the many story lines woven throughout the movie, which followed the design and execution of the five 2010 holiday windows over the course of several months. From visits to the design showrooms where the various components were assembled to the final product, no detail was overlooked by window designer/magician/cheerleader David Hoey (below, third figure to the right). Anyone who has walked by a Bergdorf window must have one time or another asked, in awe, "Where did they get that [fill in the blank]? The answer is, if they don't have it made, they find it in their vast (VAST!) storehouse. Everything you could ever, and never, possibly imagine seems to be in there.

Oh, and we learned that the Goodman family used to live in the penthouse of the store. (It has since been sold to Neiman Marcus.) Zoning laws made it illegal for people to live on the store premises, so the family members were listed as janitors.

Would you like to see where the title comes from? It was this New Yorker cartoon by Victoria Roberts.

And would you like to see the preview? Don't panic if it's not coming to a theater near you - it looks like you can view it online (for a price).

Our rating? Jean gives it 3 1/2 out of 5 Silver Stars, but feels compelled to warn that while it started out as a very entertaining history lesson, the film eventually deteriorated into what felt like a beautifully shot and written commercial. Valerie agrees with Jean's assessment, but still managed to very much enjoy the movie, although she took issue with the theater itself. As tradition demands, all three of us bought brimming bags of popcorn before making our way to our seats. When Valerie asked for a bag to put over the popcorn, so it didn't spill all over the place, the young woman behind the counter was about to oblige, but her manager stopped her, saying no additional bags would be given out, unless the price of the popcorn had been paid. (Popcorn itself optional.) Valerie's worse angel stirred from slumber and suggested that Valerie pretend to trip and then spill all the popcorn all over the red carpet. Valerie's worse angel is 15, but her better angel is 115, and the better angel suggested that Valerie behave better than the jerky manager, and not worse. This is always a struggle for Valerie, but this time it worked. Another problem is that all three of us were frozen moments after walking into the little tiny theater, and felt like popsicles by the time we walked out. So Valerie thinks she enjoyed the movie enough to give it 5 stars, but she was a bit focused on keeping warm, so she's not entirely sure. The theater gets a rating of 2 stars, for the two very nice employees. The manager counts as -2, and the cold counts as -1.


  1. I had just been reading about the film "20 Feet From Stardom" so your review is very timely! It sounds like something I would enjoy - we'll see if it ever makes it to London. I do hate icy-cold movie theatres, even when it's an inferno outside. You know that society has taken a turn for the worse when a concession stand won't give you another popcorn bag for free. Good for you, Valerie, for not giving in to the entreaties of your 15 year old angel. Jean's arm party is an art installation in itself.

  2. You crack me up! Can't wait to see 20 feet from stardom. xxoo

  3. Please let me know where one could buy these shoes!I love CAN & Warhol

    1. They are made by Icon. Not sold anymore, but you could look for them on Ebay. :)