Larger-than-life longtime Vogue magazine editor André Leon Talley, known for his capes, caftans, incisive bons mots and discerning eye gets the biographical treatment in the documentary “The Gospel According to André,” directed by Kate Novack.
Just where did this stately, otherwordly figure come from? Durham, N.C., of course. As Talley unspools his life story with self-reflective intimacy, his humble upbringing proves to be a deeply influential part of his journey to reach the high-status fashion elite. Raised by his grandmother in a community revolving around the local black church, Talley grew up instilled with a sense of dignity and a knowledge about how to dress properly for an occasion.
The film follows Talley’s path from the South to New York City, assisting Diana Vreeland at the Costume Institute, then to Interview magazine, the Paris runways for Women’s Wear Daily and finally to Vogue, where he became an icon.
It’s a fascinating look at the self-invented André Leon Talley, a bold, daring creation who never let anything obstruct his passions, curiosities and whims.
While the film ably addresses his lasting influence as a trailblazer for African American men in the world of fashion, it gets bogged down in the 2016 election. Though it was happening as they filmed, this subplot doesn’t tell us much more about Talley himself. That could have been time spent diving even more deeply into Talley’s inner world, his sorrows, his joys. Furthermore, it roots the film in a specific time, a disservice to a timeless persona.
Nevertheless, it’s a rare delight to spend so much time with the inimitable André. This revealing documentary shows the playful, loving and vulnerable side to this towering figure of taste.
‘The Gospel According to André’
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Rating: PG-13, for some thematic and suggestive content
Playing: ArcLight Hollywood; the Landmark, West Los Angeles