Sydney Film Festival: The White Crow, Halston, Mystify
Three films in two days.
All documentaries about men who died young – Rudolf Nureyev, Halston and Michael Hutchence – and all rich films in their own right.
The White Crow
The White Crow about Rudolf Nureyev and the years leading up to his defection from Russia was a passion project of Ralph Fiennes, who also features in the film as Nureyev’s most beloved dance teacher Alexander Ivanovich Pushkin. Along with his wife, Pushkin helped Nureyev break through the conservative Russian ballet ranks to be the lead in the Kirov Ballet.
Oleg Ivenko as Rudolf Nureyev is a great talent capturing the moodiness and attitude of the cocky dancer who would not be contained by the ballet, by the authorities, or by society.
The beauty of the men in the corps is mesmerising and the strength in their dance intoxicating. Fiennes provides sensitive direction with a script written by David Hare, and the result is a journey back in time to the elegant 60s where the competition between the USSR and the US is primarily in space. The Russians remain proud to hold onto ballet to showcase the success of their regime, and even the young people depicted have started to believe that the bad times are behind them and this is now a good period beginning for the Soviets.
There is a feeling of cold war, and KGB agents travel with the corps whenever they leave the USSR.
The beginning of the film is shot like a home movie showing holiday footage from Paris. The monuments, the sights, the nightclubs, and the fashion all contribute to a beautiful film about dancers and the celebrity they possessed at that time.
The White Crow is a Russian term for someone who stands out, who doesn’t fit in. Nureyev certainly didn’t fit in, from his birth on a train to his acceptance into the state ballet school. He’s not technically perfect but he has a charisma, and a presence which allows him to own the stage, and that’s these are reasons for his success.
In contrast to the constraint of the Soviet Union, Halston explores the American dream realised by sophisticated fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick, once the biggest designer in the US. Halston signed the first big designer brand collaboration with a department store – in his case JC Penny – and was the designer of the 70s…and the Studio 54 crowd. Sarah Jessica Parker wore some of his creations in her Sex and the City Days, Liza Minnelli refused to be dressed by anyone else, and probably his most famous design was the pillbox he placed on Jackie Kennedy for the presidential inauguration.
Halston started his career as a hat maker and progressed to clothing, creating a distinctive style of cutting and draping the fabric to minimise seams, fasteners and a need for underwear. Bianca Jagger was wearing Halston when she sat astride the white horse in Studio 54.
And Halston understood publicity in the pre-selfie and Instagram days. He moved with a coterie of models, declaring who would want a photo of a designer on his own as opposed to a designer surrounded by beautiful women. Halston was friends with movie stars, with Andy Warhol, and was a darling of the talk shows – Donohue in particular. He knew licensing and had the most successful designer perfume at that time, commissioning Elsa Peretti to design the bottle. He was a perfectionist, designing his home, his office, and everything he licensed. He was eventually a casualty of the 80s – sex, drugs and 80s corporate raiders. Like Nureyev, he too was a victim of AIDS.
This is a revelation of a film. Halston sold his name in the 80s, and was never able to own his own eponymous label again. His star has dimmed outside fashion circles as the label saw a number of designers take the reins unsuccessfully over the years. Halston was ahead of his time and yet a victim of his own success. Certainly a film worth seeing even outside fashion circles.
Michael Hutchence was another victim of his own success. He had a similar star quality which started even before he could actually sing, according to his bandmates in the new Richard Lowenstein documentary, Mystify.
The State Theatre was filled almost to capacity, with the 2000-person strong audience made up mainly of fans – fans of the band, the music, and Hutchence himself. They came to see him revealed as never before and while there is not a great deal of new information, the film does give slightly different perspectives to the stories we already know. Kylie Minogue provides a very honest portrayal of their relationship and breakup, which she says broke her heart. Seeing them in happy days in a boat in Hong Kong Harbour made me wonder what might have been if both of them had not such demanding careers at the time. It seemed a good relationship for them both.
Mystify is likely to be the most commercial of the three films. Hutchence is much beloved and the chronological telling of the story is very satisfying. To remember how big the band was always surprises me. In one of the early scenes, they are playing Wembley and opening for Queen. It was an experience that we’ve seen from Queen and now INXS to try and comprehend the extreme magnitude of it. Hutchence was always shy and he said his trick was not to look at the audience or his confidence would crumble. Michael, INXS, and this story are very Australian. While INXS was big in the US and UK, they were always intrinsically an Australian band.
Paula Yates emerges as a needy, self-centred woman, and while they were much in love, it was never going to work. His daughter Tiger Lily is portrayed as the love of his life, and she contributed to the making of the documentary through access to footage and music. It’s hard to believe that this all happened more than 20 years ago (he died in 1997). Through it all, Hutchence appears vulnerable – he needs love and family. He wants to come home to a family and each relationship offers him this, until it doesn’t.
All the band members contributed to the film, his parents, his siblings, and manager, publicist and former girlfriends. It’s an intimate portrayal but never oversteps the mark.