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'Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's' review: An American nightmare

Matt Pais, @mattpais

RedEye movie critic

May 16, 2013

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Zero stars (out of four)

The equivalent of watching 100 people pat themselves on the back, the documentary “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's” is as detached from the real world in 2013 as a primer on how to choose the best-tasting caviar.

Admittedly, I'm not in the target demo for a movie about iconic Fifth Avenue luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman. Mention “fashion” or “shopping” and I'll immediately check out of a conversation. Still, any topic can be fascinating, and “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's” (a title taken from a 1990 New Yorker cartoon) could have been, in theory, an examination of the creative outlet and social function of fashion, cross-referenced with a modern era in which couture couldn't be any more synonymous with the entitled 1 percent. Does the public still dream of the white mink earmuffs Liz Taylor once purchased there as gifts? Or has the veteran symbol of elite culture lost its already-minimal interest in the people who gaze in their windows, thus catering only to celebs and society page folks who can spring for $6,000 shoes?

Rather than ask any questions of consequence, writer-director Matthew Miele delivers a revolting puff piece that could run on a loop in the store.

He features designers like Michael Kors and the Olsen twins raving about Bergdorf's, while other fashion industry folks talk generally about “the emotional experience of clothes” without considering that people can feel happy/sexy/content in apparel that costs less than a car. Mild detail comes from the influence of store taste-makers like Linda Fargo, but the film fawns rather than probes. Not once does Miele engage members of the public, whom Bergdorf's clearly shrugs off. Showing designer/talking mannequin Nicole Richie cooing about how nice it is to get into the store and get your mind off things presumes every American's stress melts away at the sight of a sparkly dress and a gigantic price tag. A late-movie mention of the 2008 financial collapse attempts to generate sympathy for poor luxury retailers without any sense of their place in the crumbling economy.

Look, high fashion serves a purpose for some, and that's fine. Those who drool over “Sex and the City” (which of course appears within the first three minutes of this doc) may flock to “Bergdorf's” to ogle the fabric eye candy and dream of a more elegantly populated closet. The film doesn't actually gather anything about what's so (subjectively) great about the store or its items, though, only that a lot of famous faces want to shop there. My eyes almost rolled out of my head as designer Lazaro Hernandez talked about his allegiance to Barney's but simultaneous desire to sell at Bergdorf's. I mean, couldn't you just die?
 

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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