Knight at the Movies Archives
An entertaining, moving portrait of a gay power couple and a fairly diverting "bromance"
A peek inside an unimaginably lavish lifestyle, a rare insider’s look at the world of haute couture, a thoughtful depiction of a fashion
doyenne par excellence, and overriding everything else, an enduring, endearing portrait of two men entering their fifth decade as
business partners and as a couple. That’s Valentino: The Last Emperor, the impressive documentary portrait by Matt Tyrnauer,
special correspondent to Vanity Fair, who makes his directorial debut with this marvelously entertaining film.
The openly gay Tyrnauer’s movie follows Italian fashion designer Valentino and his long time business and life partner Giancarlo
Giammetti as they work in tandem on what turned out to be the designers last two collections. Given unprecedented access to the
elusive Valentino, Tyrnauer and his team capture a genius at work sketching and kvetching (constantly) while his partner handles the
details of Valentino’s business and runway shows. Ensconced in a lavish bubble, traveling by private Lear jet with their six pug dogs
between a chateau in Paris, an Italian villa in Rome, a ski chalet in Gstaad, and a luxurious yacht, the sumptuousness of their
lifestyle provides the movie with enough visual eye candy for a dozen films. But the settings are simply stage sets for an intimate
look at a couple who have longed learned to take the trappings for granted. The focus is on creating a shared vision of something
beautiful (and in Valentino’s clothes, beauty becomes tangible).
That vision began for Valentino, we learn, when as a lad of 13 he saw 1941’s Ziegfeld Girl with Hedy Lamar, Lana Turner and Judy
Garland clothed to the teeth and decided at that moment he wanted to design clothes “for ladies.” There’s not much other
background on the elfin, perennially tan designer and next to nothing on Giancarlo. Suddenly, amidst archival footage, Valentino is
the toast of the fashion world with Jackie Kennedy as his premiere client. After meeting on the Via Veneto in Rome – the boulevard
packed with nightlife favored by the jet set pictured in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita was shot in Rome – the two have been inseparable
since. They met July 31, 1960 Giancarlo firmly recalls the as the couple return to the café on the famous street where they first met
while Valentino declares that it was across the street.
As we follow Valentino through his last two years of designing and Giancarlo working behind the scenes – from the spring/summer
collection of 2006 to the star studded 45th anniversary celebration that capped his career – we get a lovely sense of the dynamics of
the relationship between the two. Valentino, it quickly becomes obvious, is used to having the final say on everything and these two
micromanagers gently disagree on many things – the number of panels in a handmade, breathless beautiful dress, the stage set for
the Paris collection, the hairstyles created by the stylist, etc. At one point Giancarlo mutters to the camera under his breath, “It gets
worse every day” but then when Valentino receives France’s highest award – the Legion of Honor – he finishes his speech with a very
moving – and public – tribute to Giancarlo. Tyrnauer cuts back and forth between the two men, each in tears and it’s not just a very
moving moment; it’s the emotional peak of the film.
The film then moves on to the opulent July, 2007 celebration festivities and focuses on whether Valentino will continue to design. At
75 with his contract expiring, the bottom line has changed – couture is no longer as in demand and few can afford the $100,000
dresses stitched by hand (the workroom, we learn, doesn’t even have a sewing machine). The corporate takeover of Valentino’s
business, originally engineered by Giammetti, made the couple impossibly rich but set the stage for Valentino’s ultimate demise –
the ancillary products with their lucrative licensing fees have long become more important to the bottom line. When Karl Lagerfeld,
walking hand in hand with Valentino during the celebration gazes upon a retrospective of Valentino gowns and comments,
“Compared to us, the rest are making rugs,” you realize he’s right and a sadness momentarily hangs over the celebration.
But unlike the icy Lagerfeld, who didn’t give off much in his insider documentary, Lagerfeld Confidential (a fascinating counterpart to
this movie), Tyrnauer pulls off the delightful feat of humanizing the designer and his counterpart. Artistic genius and business
acumen aside, in bringing the relationship of the two men front and center Valentino: The Last Emperor has given the world – and
GLBT audiences in particular – a beautifully observed portrait of a power gay couple that is as entertaining as it is illuminating.
I Love You, Man, the likeable comedy which stars pudgy, sweet faced Paul Rudd and the easy going Jason Segel continues the
new, enlightened direction that “guy” movies have been taking as of late. These movies have now passed the “dude don’t touch me
faggot” phase and have instead taken to heart the importance of male bonding without all the dreary sexual hang ups. I love that
the term “bromance” has entered the lexicon and now here is yet another comedy that says its okay for straight guys to get cozy
and intimate with one another. And they won’t lose an ounce of testosterone if they admit to liking a hardcore chick flick like
Chocolat. That’s just one of the funny gags in I Love You, Man, a movie that’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.
Everyone in the movie, a batch of crude talkers all are masters of snark (especially the ladies who trash talk like grown up versions
of the Heathers). Everyone, that is except Rudd who does his best to be hip but can’t quite join the cynical parade of humanity
around him. Andy Samberg plays his gay younger brother, a gym trainer with a thing for straight guys (because the gay ones are
too easy to pick up) and the dad, played by J.K. Simmons affirms that Andy’s his best friend – the gay character is again shown as
an example for the straight ones to look up to and emulate (another trend that’s quite heartening to GLBT audiences).
The plot revolves around Rudd, who only has women friends, trying to find a best man for his impending nuptials. By chance he
meets up with Segel and the two improbably become best buds (their bonding over their shared enthusiasm for the arena rock group
Rush is hilarious). With all the characters spewing snark left and right the movie really brightens considerably when Segel enters the
picture. He’s a big, shambling guy – one of those guys that’s completely comfortable in their own skin – so laidback and cool you
can’t help but like him.
Though the comedy bits in the movie are rather hit or miss (they rely too heavily on Rudd’s unfailing ability to get laughs with his
nerdish line readings) the relationship between the two friends is enough to put I Love You, Man in the plus column.
It Takes Two:
Valentino: The Last Emperor-I Love You, Man
Expanded Edition of 3-25-09 Windy City Times KATM Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.