The First Monday in May

maxresdefault *** (out of five)

Workplace docs are a long-standing sub-genre of documentary; sometimes they’re a glimpse of the banal (Salesman), sometimes the unique (Leviathan) and sometimes the rarefied, as is the case here. The First Monday In May is the date of Anna Wintour’s fund-raising fashion gala in support of the Costume Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and where to seat Beyoncé is a vital part of her workday.

Wintour is an icon to a segment of the population, and, of course, she has been fictionalised to a wider audience in the novel and film The Devil Wears Prada (where her alter-ego was played brilliantly by no less than Meryl Streep). She’s also already been the subject of an excellent feature-length documentary, 2009’s The September Issue. She is every bit the fashion doyenne, and the denizens of her world – and the acolytes who surround her – expect her to be sarcastic, regal, bitchy, cutting and intimidating. She lives up to their expectations; how much she plays up to them only she knows. Or maybe she doesn’t: it’s possibly become ingrained, automatic.

The other major character in the film is Andrew Bolton, the curator of the Met’s Costume Department. He’s not a strong enough personality, perhaps, for his own feature-length cinema-released doco, but as a foil to Wintour he’s excellent company, and appears almost down to earth in the context of people such as Wintour’s editorial consultant, who happily appears on camera dressed like a giant green pear.

Interesting if not fascinating, your appreciation will increase the more you like the kind of stuff these people work on. If fashion is of zero interest to you you may still get by; if high-falutin’ people aren’t your style, though, you must avoid.

Whoever Was Using This Bed

Whoever Was Using This Bed - PosterA short film screening as part of the St Kilda Film Festival.

I read through the works of American short story supremo Raymond Carver when I was a kid. He’s been quite brilliantly adapted for screen in a couple of features – Altman’s Short Cuts and Ray Lawrence’s Jindabyne – and there are literally dozens of short film adaptations of his stories, some of which are probably great and some of which probably are not – he’s a tricky writer to adapt, for a lot of reasons. Andrew Kotatko’s adaptation of Whoever Was Using This Bed is an intelligent, precise and mature short film that doesn’t rely on Carver’s innate abilities; in transposing this gripping little two-hander to the screen, Kokatko makes plenty of cinematic choices of his own, informed by his obvious deep regard for the source material.

Any two-hander needs great performances from both performers, and Jean-Marc Barr and Radha Mitchell excellently play off each other – and alone (in Barr’s case, as he deals with disturbing telephone calls) –  as a married couple dealing with a metaphysical crisis in the wee small hours. Although both use American accents, the film is set in an Everywhere, befitting one of Carver’s more esoteric and genre-laced works (the genre being toyed with here being the thriller or even ghost story).

Kotatko and cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson manage to wring elegant moves, surprising angles and evocative moods from their seemingly cramped location. Kotatko’s choice of having the couple’s belongings boxed, shrouded and covered adds to both the feeling of existential dislocation and the couple’s displaced universality – they may be in an Everywhere, but they’re also, at least as we find them, Nowhere.

This is short filmmaking at its most literate, in the best sense of the word.

The St Kilda Film Festival – one of the biggest and best short film festivals in the world – begins on the 19th of May. Whoever Was Using This Bed screens in Session 6 on May 21st.


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