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Yves Saint Laurent - His Life and Times/5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris

Empire Pictures // Unrated // February 20, 2007
List Price: $26.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted February 18, 2007 | E-mail the Author
The movie

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 advance.)

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 viewer.

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 look.


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, though.


We get a text biography of Yves St Laurent and trailers for several other DVDs (unrelated to fashion).

Final thoughts

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 interesting.

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