As far as fashion goes, I'm a
jeans-and-t-shirt kind of person. Fortunately, the demands of fashion
on college teachers are fairly light: throw a blazer over any
reasonably decent shirt and you'll look suitably professorial. So
when it comes to haute couture, all my knowledge comes from watching
The House of Eliott - fun but not really the basis for an
understanding of modern fashion, I suspect. I'd heard of Yves Saint
Laurent before the DVD titled with his name showed up in my mailbox,
but honestly that's about it. (All you folks who are in the know
about fashion probably just shuddered at my ignorance. I apologize in
Yves Saint Laurent: Collector's
Edition is actually a pairing of two documentaries: "His
Life and Times" (77 minutes) and "5th Avenue Marceau"
(85 minutes) (There's a "play all" feature as well.)
Between the two of them, they expose viewers to a concentrated dose
of Yves Saint Laurent and his work - but they don't do much to inform
the jeans-and-sportscoat set about why, exactly, he's so famous.
"His Life and Times" jumps
immediately into an interview with St. Laurent, in which he muses
about his childhood; we then shift into interviews with family and
others who knew him growing up, with the interview footage interwoven
with still photographs from the time. We swiftly find out about his
early interests in fashion, his aspirations, and the start of his
career. As the program continues and follows St. Laurent into his
career, the interviews and still photographs are rounded out with
film footage of St. Laurent talking about his own collection, and
further interviews with others who are familiar with his career.
Snippets of fashion shows are interspersed with the program, giving a
glimpse of the fashions that he designed.
For those who are familiar with the
world of high fashion, this approach is excellent: we're immediately
plunged into details of St. Laurent's life and career, and get what
I'm sure is a good insight into his career. There's also a fair
amount of material dealing with St. Laurent's personal life and
relationships, which will be of interest to those who want to know
more about St. Laurent's life as a swinging party guy.
On the other hand, it does very
little to inform viewers of what, precisely, Yves Saint Laurent is
really famous for. By the last section of the program, we do hear
some interesting insights about the styles that St. Laurent
developed, and about his personal creativity. Unfortunately, though,
it's late enough in the film that anyone who wasn't already
fascinated by St. Laurent would (rightfully) have been bored and
given up. What's more, there's no sense of context or comparison: the
film makes references to other designers and fashions, but it's all
very vague. Again, if you already know about the world of fashion,
you probably don't need this context - so "His Life and Times"
is clearly meant for the St. Laurent fan, not the curious casual
The second feature is "5 Avenue
Marceau," which is even more of an insider's piece. We are
tossed directly behind the scenes, into the design and production
process at St. Laurent's couture house (which is located at 5 Avenue
Marceau in Paris; hence the title.) After a brief whirl of exposure
to the bustle behind the scenes, we learn that this film will show
the process by which St. Laurent takes an idea from design sketch to
final reality, over about eight weeks. In this way, we get a little
bit of structure to the program... but it's not that much. It's
really a "fly on the wall" approach, choosing to show
rather than tell.
I'm not a big fan of documentaries
that lack voiceover or narration of any kind, and "5 Avenue
Marceau" is a prime example of why. Yes, we see things, and we
get an insider's point of view on what's going on... but we have no
understanding of it. Rather than drawing us closer into the
experience, ironically we're kept as outsiders, because we don't
really know what the significance is of what we see: sure, we can
guess, but who knows if we're missing out on key details or useful
insights? A voiceover that would tell us what's interesting or
important about this material would, to be sure, break the illusion
of being "there" in the middle of it, but it would have had
the effect of making us more involved by letting us appreciate better
what we see.
As it is, we're left to draw our own
conclusions; as for me, the only thing I really got out of seeing
behind the scenes was a sense of horror at how appallingly skeletal
the models are. To me, they're not beautifully thin, but pitifully
sticklike, a sad distortion of feminine proportions. What else could
I have gotten out of seeing "5 Avenue Marceau"? Probably a
better insight into the process by which high fashion is created...
but without an experienced guide, it was pretty much wasted on me.
Those who already know a great deal about fashion will undoubtedly
get a lot more out of it.
"His Life and Times"
appears in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The image quality
varies, as we might expect from the fact that contains a lot of
archival footage from television, starting in the 1950s and
continuing on to the present. This footage tends to be rather worn,
with colors that don't look right. The modern interview footage looks
much better, with a generally clean and natural appearance.
"5 Avenue Marceau" appears
in a non-anamorphic widescreen presentation. The transfer looks quite
good, with bright, natural colors and a generally clean and appealing
The French-language audio track is
reasonably clear, but there's a lip-synching problem in some scenes
of "His Life and Times" that will be distracting if you try
to watch the speakers as well as the subtitles. "5 Avenue
Marceau" appears to be free of problems, and has clear and clean
dialogue. The subtitles appear in a clean white font with black
outlines, making them easy to read on-screen. They're not optional,
We get a text biography of Yves St
Laurent and trailers for several other DVDs (unrelated to fashion).
If you are into fashion, you may
enjoy the two programs included on Yves Saint Laurent. If you
don't know much about the fashion world in general or Yves Saint
Laurent in particular, this DVD is certainly not the one to start
with; it's so focused on observing its subject that it forgets to
tell us much of anything about him. I'll give it a "rent it"
rating, keeping in mind that most viewers will want to skip it, but
for those whom it is aimed at, it's likely to be reasonably