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Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston at the Tribeca Film Festival

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Pat Cleveland at the American Express premiere of Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston during the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival

The celebrity wattage that turned out Friday night for the American Express-sponsored world premiere of Whitney Sudler-Smith's documentary Ultrasuede: In Search of Halson during the Tribeca Film Festival very nearly rivaled the star power onscreen.

The 90-minute film is a worthwhile watch for fans of the 1970s and anyone interested in a straightforward historical montage-treatment of Roy Halston Frowick, the designer and personality. The archive footage of Halston with his models and images from Studio 54 are unforgettable, as are the interviews with Pat Cleveland, one of Halston's closest friends and favorite models, the ever-knowledgeable Andre Leon Talley, and the transcendent Ralph Rucci.

Other celebrities and boldface names featured in or interviewed for the film include Diane von Furstenberg, Liza Minnelli (who was mesmerizing, but couldn't have given vaguer answers to Sudler-Smith's also-vague questions), Anjelica Huston, Bob Colacello, Paul Wilmot, Phillip Bloch, and Billy Joel.

Save the nostalgia, sentimentality, and righteous indignation the film evokes for the heartless disregard of the legacy of this fashion revolutionary—Sudler-Smith reveals that Halston's archives exist in shuffled, dusty, unkempt disorder in a back closet at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee—the film only barely scratches the surface of Halston's life.

Noticeably absent from the footage, but present at the post-premiere discussion panel was Bill Duggan, who was Halston's right-hand man throughout the designer's career. The fact that he never appeared on camera was never addressed.

Sudler-Smith's self-professed ignorance on the subject was painfully obvious in every scene (many) in which he inserted himself—almost as if he had full intentions of establishing a spoof framework of buffoon investigative journalist tooling around in his obnoxious Trans Am (a lot). Sudler-Smith waxes on about himself to such an extent and films so many atmospheric solo shots of himself that some scenes are almost too-awkward and cheesy to watch. The director's ham-fisted and obtuse interview skills also come off as rather insulting to the luminaries with which he's secured interviews—access he was granted, no doubt, with the help of his family connections (his mother is the very influential socialite Patricia Altschul). Did he really ask Talley who Diana Vreeland was? Even Liza Minnelli told Sudler-Smith to "do some research."

And so the film goes: brilliant archive footage, incandescent voiceovers by Pat Cleveland, Ralph Rucci, and Andre Leon Talley, interspersed with Sudler-Smith clobbering the audience over the head with jarring transmission-revving, lamebrain interview questions, and interstitial shots of himself standing, walking, and/or driving.
· Tribeca Film Festival [Official Site]
· Ultrasuede: In search of Halston, Part I [HuffPost]
· Ultrasuede: In search of Halston, Park II [HuffPost]
· In the ’70s, Vicariously [NY Times]