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The First Monday in May - Film Review

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by Damsel Martin (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer, blogger and animal wrangler living in Brisbane's western suburbs. Many of my stories offer great giveaways to readers - subscribe to hear about them first.
Published May 14th 2016
A story of sequins, stitches, studs and seating arrangements
first monday in may andrew bolton anna wintour fashion gala art metropolitan museum movie film documentary
Andrew Bolton in The First Monday in May, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Most of my clothes come from Target, so I'm not sure what led me to see The First Monday of May. This sparkling new documentary chronicles the painstaking creation of the exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass at The Costume Institute within New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the gala celebration which launches it.

But The First Monday in May drew me in like a magnet. First, the collision of fashion, art and celebrity makes for a breathtakingly beautiful spectacle. Then there's the thrill of entering a fairytale world (albeit only for the film's 90-minute duration) which few of us even knew existed.

first monday in may andrew bolton anna wintour fashion gala art metropolitan museum movie film documentary
Anna Wintour, Andrew Bolton, and Wendi Murdoch in The First Monday in May, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The First Monday in May takes viewers behind the scenes, following Anna Wintour (Editor-in-Chief of Vogue magazine, longtime chair of the Met Gala celebrations and inspiration behind The Devil Wears Prada) and curator Andrew Bolton for eight months as they prepare for an evening designed to take the worlds of art and fashion by storm.

Filling both The Costume Institute and the Chinese Galleries of The Met, the record-breaking 2015 multimedia extravaganza featured more than 140 striking examples of haute couture and ready-to-wear fashions set against a backdrop of Chinese paintings, porcelains and other fine art, as well as films depicting the ongoing cultural dialogue between East and West.

The fashions in China: Through the Looking Glass also inspired the Met Gala's star-studded launch party guest list which included Kate Hudson, George Clooney, Julianne Moore, Jennifer Lawrence, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keyes, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Justin Bieber and Michael Bloomberg.

The behind-the-scenes machinations involved in bringing an event like this to life are riveting, particularly given the breathless 'Will they pull it off in time?' throughline. No detail, from table decorations to seating arrangements, is too small to agonise over; bigger problems thus seem almost insurmountable. For example, contemporary pop icon Rihanna's fee demands for her presence and performance nearly bring organisers to their knees. (No, we never do get to hear the final price tag.)

first monday in may andrew bolton anna wintour fashion gala art metropolitan museum movie film documentary
Andrew Bolton in The First Monday in May, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The First Monday in May questions whether fashion can or should be viewed as art. It probes the psychology of some of the key players - for example, tracing the curious career trajectory of Bolton, who grew up in an English backwater, only learning about fashion as a teenager through magazines. It's a pity documentary makers didn't apply the same Freudian lens to the fearsome Wintour.

So while The First Monday in May delves behind the scenes, it doesn't engage in much (if any) critical reflection of the world it features. But with all the ruffles, the wrinkles, the glitter and the glamour, I found myself absorbed for the film's full 90-minute duration. A visual feast can be satisfying in that way.

first monday in may andrew bolton anna wintour fashion gala art metropolitan museum movie film documentary
A scene from The First Monday in May, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

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