5:15 PM EDT, September 27, 2012
For an improbable number of years across the 20th Century, Harper's Bazaar fashion editor and Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland turned every bauble, bangle and bright shiny bead she personally approved on her publishers' expense accounts into something faaaaabulous and photographable, bringing the world Twiggy and other exotic creatures, operating (as she told at least one writer) under the assumption that an editor isn't "supposed to give the people what they want. They're supposed to give them what they don't know they want yet."
"Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel" is a fond documentary directed by Vreeland's granddaughter-in-law, Lisa Immordino Vreeland. The two never met, and you wouldn't call this film a hard-hitting, ruthlessly honest examination of a highly public and wondrously self-made life. But director Vreeland knows a few things about holding an audience's attention, whether the audience is fashion-informed or fashion-stupid.
It helps, of course, that Vreeland (1903-1989) had a way with a bon mot to go with her striking, unconventional looks, resembling a Modigliani. Raised in Paris, relocated to America, the girl labeled "my ugly duckling" by her mother worked through her insecurities by learned to seem glamorous, to acquire glamour by absorbing it in music, fashion, living. She dispensed priceless and disarmingly callow wisecracks right and left, whether the subject was the City of Lights ("The best thing about London...is Paris") or Adolf Hitler ("That mustache was just wrong").
The visual emphasis in "The Eye Has to Travel" is on the pages of the magazines Vreeland dominated, and as such it's a sleek eyeful. For reference the film includes a clip of the Vreeland-inspired fashion editor played by Kay Thompson in "Funny Face." That musical's visual consultant was Richard Avedon, the photographer Vreeland used so often and so well in the pages of Vogue. "My crazy aunt," he called her. She ended her career at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as a consultant revitalizing (some said vulgarizing) the Met's Costume Institute.
George Plimpton helped Vreeland write her memoirs, published under the title "D.V." "The Eye Has to Travel" turns the transcripts of Plimpton's interviews with Vreeland into the through-line for the documentary, with actors reading the parts of Vreeland and Plimpton. It's a serviceable notion; the film gets better, however, when it ventures closer to Vreeland's grown sons, who received minimal parenting from their endlessly busy and increasingly famous mother. Son Frecky recalls that Vreeland once told him: "You've got to be either first in your class or the bottom of the class. Don't be in the middle." He then adds, with a pained smile: "That's a wretched piece of advice to give a school kid."
'Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel' -- 3 stars
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for some nude images)
Running time: 1:26
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