Esteerned Hollywood director Robert Altman’s latest offering, Prét—z‘r-Parter, spotlights the fashion world in all its hollow glitziness. Even before it had wobbled off the catwalk and into the cutting room, it was being labelled by some as a cinematic clothes horse. Lila Rawlings traces the media hype preceding its release, while Craig McLean lifts the skirt on a film with no plot.
ven before filming had started. the media
fascination with Robert Altman‘s fashion fantasia
had reached fever pitch. In the fickle world of fashion. Hollywood met its match in a monster equally as self obsessed and fixated with talking about itself at every given opportunity. The combination of Altman. maverick director let loose on the belle monde. together with a killer cast-list of stars. designers and supermodels. provided excellent copy and plenty of glitzy photo opportunities for every magazine from l’rena'ere to American l’ague.
Stories of logistical nightmares about ﬁlming in Paris during fashion week. the fabulous cast (super models met super stars). the scriptless ad-libbing. the disillusioned maverick director (‘Who do I have to sleep with to get off of this movie?) all fuelled the unstoppable pie-publicity machine. Magazines. newspapers and TV stations all over North America gobbled the stories surrounding the making ofthe film with a voracious appetite and spewed them out again with equal enthusiasm. The British media too seemed to share the infatuation and delighted in stories about the risque poster and the title change (your average American was deemed incapable of the French pronunciation so some bright spark in marketing came up with the meaningless Ready to Wear). lit the trade papers. the news that r\liramax had sold the film entirely on presales before it was finished rather than waiting until it had opened. indicated a nervousness and profound lack of confidence that it would deliver.
Finally the film opened and. yes. under the contrived weight of so much media speculation. the critics deemed it a Grade A turkey. Which it might be. ()r might not. Those anticipating the same treatment of a corrupt industry so brilliantly exposed in The Player are sure to be disappointed. Those critics who ruarvelled at the narrative gymnastics of Short Cats are already agasp at the rambling. improvised style of PreI-a-l’arler. The message that crept across the Atlantic was a resounding ‘Altman misses: a venerable career is over’.
As the opening dates for PréI-a-l’orier loom on the horizon here. there is a resounding silence surrounding the UK publicity campaign. The film’s UK distributors seem pretty lacklustre about the whole thing and have made definite efforts to avoid showing the film to the press before it hits the big screen. After all the premature media frenzy and Hollywood hyperbole. it would seem that the audience will give Altman the final thumbs tip or down on this one.
n the words of Fad-TV‘s on-the-spot. out-to-lunch
Kitty Potter. ‘Fashion. my friends. is war.‘ If so.
why did no one tell Robert Altman that the first casualty of war is truth? lfso. is the spring style-fest in Paris fashion's very own Road To Basra‘.’ And if so. was the one about ‘lions being led by donkeys' ever- more pertinent?
For this is the world of l’r'et-a-l’m'rer. a hectic week of hype. disaster. death. intrigue and vainglorious nincornpoops feuding it out to win the hearts and minds of clothes-horses the world over. Just as Nashville peered past the rhinestone at country music‘s fatty heart. as The Player cast an acerbic eye over the film industry‘s diseased soul. so I’reI-(‘r-l’m-Ier spotlights and exposes the emperor's-new-clothes extravagance of the fashion world.
Like Slim-I (.‘a/s. Altman‘s long-planned look at fashion‘s mores and bores is an enserrrble piece. threading together a dizzying array of roles and caricatures. set-pieces and vignettes. Unlike Short (tax and its spiralling character cross-cuts. the narrative threads linking the various elements of l’rer- a-l’arler are fleeting. As Altman freely admits. ‘there is no plot.’ Instead. his latest movie hangs together via the simple device of mirroring the very world it portrays: the film‘s coherence comes from the fashion world‘s incoherence. the farmer‘s depth from the latter‘s superficiality.
The international fashion glitterati is descending on Paris for the spring collections. lrnpassioned American designer Cy Bianco (Forest Whitaker) is bringing his ‘urban tribal' collection. Melodrama queen and bitchy English fop Cort Romney (Richard E. Grant) is unveiling his Vivienne Westwood-inspired regal decadence and love of a good quote (‘going back to the bustle is the only way to banish the banal. sloppy mediocrity all around us today.‘ he says with an arch ﬂourish).
Robert Altman and friends
The three mavins of the fashion media are not far behind. Along with the backbiting models and designers. the editors of lz‘lle. Harper's Bazaar and British l’ogae (Tracey Ullman) gleefully epitornise the callighting behind the catwalks as they squabble over the services of hotshot ~ and sleazebag — photographer Milo ()‘Brannagan (Stephen Rea).
Add to this two American reporters (Tim Robbins arid Julia Roberts) getting stuck in a shared room (and into each other). one American TV journalist (Kim Basinger's Kitty Potter) footstepping anyone and everyone. a possible murder. art international love- story spanning four decades and three countries. a Texan cowboy-boot manufacturer. corporate intrigue. lavish cross-dressing. farcical partner-swoppirw, and a final. cataclysmic catwalk bombshell -- here is life's rich pageant and fashion‘s baroque tapestry in all their giddy. vacuous. excessive glory.
l’reI-(‘r-l’urrer boasts a stellar cast. with screen legends Lauren Bacall. Sophia Loren and Marcello r\'lastroianni joining more familiar Altman regulars. The tangential side-swipes come quick and fast, whether it‘s the Clouseau-esque French detective (M. Tantpis : Mr Too Bad) or the send-up of the famous Loren/Mastroianni clincher in Yesterday. 'lirday And limmrl'mv. or the echoes of classic fish- out-of—waterliet-set-Americans-abroad films like Cary Grant‘s Walk. [)011'1 Run. The presence of real—life supermodels (Christy and Naomi). surreal- life designers (Jean-Paul and Thierry). and larger- than-life celebs (Cher and Harry Belafonte) only heighten the docu-drama feel. and so the film's vivacity and believability. A romp. a farce. a searing indictment of consumer culture and the tyranny of the image — call it what you will. l’reI-a-l’urter is fantastic.
Heck. even Rupert Everett‘s good. L]
l’rel-a-l’arler opens Friday .1‘ Mare/r. Short Cuts is released by Artificial [Eye Video ("I Wednesday 8 Mare/r a! [15.99.
The List 24 Feb-9 Mar 199511