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Film Reviews Review: The Gospel According to André digs beneath Talley’s carefully curated image

  • The Gospel According to André
  • Directed by Kate Novack
  • Classification 14A
  • 94 minutes

rating

André Leon Talley.

TIFF

At one point in the new documentary The Gospel According to André, fashion journalist André Leon Talley notices that his high-school yearbook hobby is listed as “skiing” – a fabrication he now laughingly admits he made in order to seem “grand and rich and cultured.”

Several other people in Kate Novack’s documentary readily agree that much of fashion is about self-presentation, artifice and heightened reality. But as an outsider, the director isn’t awed by this sort of industry glamour pose (or cowed by its cliquishness), and in parts of The Gospel According to André, she manages to peel away the carefully curated image to reveal what it was like for Talley growing up a fashion-interested, francophile, gay black man in North Carolina during times of racial segregation, let alone ascending to the top of the fashion ranks.

Talley, however, doesn’t see himself as a vocal political agitator, and Novack seems to have to tread lightly around him. It’s left to interviewees such as academics, Fran Lebowitz and Whoopi Goldberg to weigh in. They’re all well-chosen to represent the texture of Talley’s life outside the oft-covered world of Vogue – although a visit to former model Isabella Rossellini at her farm, where the pair chat about art and glamour while she massages her pigs, is refreshingly incongruous.

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The film’s most insightful moments come when the documentary reconnects Talley with his past as they revisit his hometown and oldest friends, tracking down a long-lost first fashion muse and a former teacher, or plumb Talley’s extensive magazine archives and discuss the ongoing battle for greater racial diversity, inclusion and representation.

At least his legacy on those pages speaks for itself.

The Gospel According to André opens May 25 in Toronto and Vancouver.

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