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'The First Monday in May' gets lost in the Met amid several story lines

'The First Monday in May' gets lost in the Met amid several story lines
From left: Anna Wintour, Andrew Bolton, and Wendi Murdoch in "The First Monday in May." (Magnolia Pictures)

A half-dozen fascinating stories intertwine in the documentary "The First Monday in May," a film that suffers from the diffusion — although director Andrew Rossi mostly stands accused of being overly attuned to his subject's rich possibilities.

In a broad sense, "The First Monday in May" is about the Metropolitan Museum of Art's popular 2015 exhibit "China: Through the Looking Glass," a collection of fashion designs inspired by Chinese culture. The best-attended fashion-related event at the Met since "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty," "Looking Glass" helped settle some of the controversy over whether designing clothes is just "decorative art."

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But the show also sparked new controversies, which Rossi engages thoughtfully. Many of the featured designers were inspired by "Orientalist" stereotypes. Does displaying those works tell a story that shouldn't be ignored, or does it also exploit the exotic trappings of the Far East?

As with Rossi's acclaimed documentary "Page One: Inside the New York Times," "First Monday" covers too much ground, here weaving in the involvement of Vogue editor Anna Wintour and the complex planning behind the celebrity-studded opening gala.

That said, the famous faces give the movie a touch of glamour, which helps enhance curator Andrew Bolton's vision. Debates about how best to represent both fashion and China — with the likes of Baz Luhrmann and Wong Kar-wai weighing in — are provocative and useful. But Rihanna walking the red carpet in an Asian-inspired ensemble is fine art in motion.

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"The First Monday in May."

MPAA rating: PG-13, for brief strong language.

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

Playing: The Landmark, West Los Angeles.

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