Diana Vreeland was a legendary magazine editor, tastemaker, and fashion maven whose career and influence spanned decades, from the 1930s to her death in 1989. The documentary Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, attempts to tell the tale of her accomplishments in a brief amount of time, running through the decades at an accelerated pace, but achieving the kind of zip the lady herself would approve of. The word you hear her say the most in the archival clips assembled here is "pizzazz," and at times, The Eye Has to Travel definitely has it.
The spine for Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel is not the companion book that ties in with it, but Vreeland's memoir, D.V., which she wrote with the help of George Plimpton (and itself is a great read worth seeking out). Plimpton interviewed Vreeland at length to gather the material for the book, and co-directors Lisa Immordino Vreeland (her granddaughter) and Bent Jorgen Perlmutt re-create those conversations with voice actors to create a narrative thread that runs all through the history they assemble via vintage photographs, new testimonials from friends and admirers, and archival sit-downs with the lady herself. The result is something that may not be revelatory for those familiar with the subject, but should otherwise open the door for any viewers who aren't. It's also a feast for the eyes, providing ample evidence of Vreeland's sense of style.
Vreeland, an unconventional looking woman (particularly for the fashion world) with no formal education, began her career selling lingerie for Coco Chanel, segued into writing a column for Harper's Bazaar, and then took over as fashion editor. From there, she became editor-in-chief at Vogue before rounding out her career by curating the Costume Institute exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The kind of vim and vigor Vreeland brought to the magazine world, and the breadth of people she worked with, is astonishing. This is, after all, a woman credited with discovering the bikini, the blue jean, and Lauren Bacall. She was a mentor to Richard Avedon and hired Ali MacGraw as an assistant before MacGraw was an actress. (Sidenote: A clip where MacGraw gets slightly tongue-tied while telling a story about Diana is one of he best edits in the movie.) Vreeland was also the inspiration for the fictional fashion editors in the movies Funny Face and Who Are You, Polly Magoo? Her influence--both what she sent out and what she took in--knew no boundaries.
The line-up of folks who sat down to talk about Vreeland for this movie is like a who's who of fashion. There are models (Verushka, Lauren Hutton, Anjelica Huston), photographers (Avedon, David Bailey, Joel Schumacher (wait, what?!)), and designers (Calvin Klein, Anna Sui, Diane von Furstenberg, Manolo Blahnik), all of whom connected with Vreeland in some way. Diana's children and grandchildren also talk about her, with the younger offspring being slightly more effusive. Some bitterness remains for Vreeland's sons, who grew up at a disconnect from their mother. This, unfortunately, is only given cursory attention. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel is meant as a tribute and not a full exploration; so, if there's one downside here, it's that it shies away from figuring out who Vreeland was when she wasn't working. The filmmakers make a slim case for there being no life for her away from the magazine, and justify it with Vreeland's own reluctance to discuss personal matters, but it still feels like a missed opportunity.
The video presentation on the Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel DVD is adequate. Colors are nice and resolution is fine. There's a lot of archival footage, and that is cleaned up well, and the difference between the old stuff and the new is obvious. Judging by the modern interviews, you can see that this is essentially a solid DVD, nothing flashy, good enough for what it is.
Audio is presented in English and given a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. It's a bit of overkill, since given the nature of Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel, it's mostly talking and thus justifiably centered in the main speakers. Everything sounds clear and clean, regardless.
English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired are also available.
Extras include a 44-minute compilation of more from the new interviews showcased in the film, and the theatrical trailer.
Recommended. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel is both entertaining and informative, spanning nearly a century and displaying the artistry and ongoing influence of its subject, the legendary editor of Harper's Bazaar and Vogue. Featuring scads of photos, vintage clips, and new interviews, the documentary is a fitting tribute to a deserving, unique individual, even if it does shy away from some of the deeper aspects of her personality. Then again, darkness doesn't really have pizzazz, now, does it?
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.