‘The First Monday in May’
Director:
Andrew Rossi
Genre: Documentary
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

Fashion documentaries are virtually a Netflix category by now, and most of them feature Anna Wintour. Titles like “The September Issue,” “Dior & I” and Albert Maysles’ “Iris” offer plenty of dress- and celeb-gawking. But they’re also, often enough, rigorous and patient looks at the process of creation. In the case of “The First Monday in May,” the work being willed into being is a true behemoth: the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual, lavish, star-studded spring exhibition, namely last year’s near-problematic “China: Through the Looking Glass.”

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Trailing the harried eight-month lead-up to the big event, “May” offers plenty of hang-time with Wintour as well as guest artistic director Wong Kar-wai, whose film “In the Mood for Love” is both a devastating masterpiece and, apparently, a biggie with fashionistas. But its real star is Andrew Bolton, the Met’s mousy but fastidious costume curator. Quietly nit-picking every crease, Bolton tirelessly plans the museum’s transformation into a relentless eyesore of beautiful frocks. He also endlessly frets that the show could simply reinforce old school “orientalism.” Bolton and cohorts go above and beyond to ensure it creates a bridge between the East and West, not a one-way street — one that educates people on Hollywood’s first Asian superstar, Anna May Wong, and colonialist romps like Josef von Sternberg’s “Shanghai Express.”

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Director Andrew Rossi made his name with “Page One: Inside the New York Times,” which helped turn journos David Carr and Brian Stelter into non-fiction movie stars. Bolton is as magnetic as they are — someone who’s always working, always thinking, and creating work in which the creator’s hand is, ultimately, invisible. By the time we’ve arrived at the big night, it’s clear the revelers — a bro-ing-down Bradley Cooper, Rihanna and her mile-long gown, Justin Bieber giddily posing beside a Commie uniform — are idly enjoying the fruits of far too much labor. It’s a lush behind-the-scenes peep that tacitly argues that not only is fashion art but so, if you will, are fashion shows. 

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge