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.”
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.
“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.