Filmmaker Whitney Sudler-Smith on Wearing Wigs & Searching for Halston

One of the greatest moments from the 2010 documentary Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston is when Liza Minnelli tells director Whitney Sudler-Smith that Halston always used to say that "you gotta fuck ’em up" in order to keep an audience on their feet. The legendary singer goes on to advise Sudler-Smith that when it comes to making the rest of the film, "fuck the gossip" and find the solid stuff. Watching Minnelli sit back and curse like a sailor as she reminisced about her dear friend Roy Halston Frowick set the tone for this unconventional doc on the iconic designer that defined disco fashion in the ’70s. 

While the doc was heavily focused on the life and times of the late iconic designer, there was one other character in the film that we couldn’t help but be distracted by, besides the straight-shooting Minnelli: the director. Sudler-Smith brings a sense of offbeat hilarity to the information-heavy doc by pushing interviewee Andre Leon Talley’s buttons, rolling up to historical sites in tricked-out cars, and wearing an array of ridiculous wigs. Here, the filmmaker talks us through his Ultrasuede journey and just why he wanted to "bring a little Borat into things."

What was the process of finding individuals to interview for this project?
The process was very tricky: you called and emailed friends of friends, contacted agents, managers, publicists, and hoped for the best. For example, a friend of Dennis Basso, the furrier, is very close to Liza Minnelli, so he asked her to do it. Once we got Liza and people heard that this was a legitimate production, it got a bit easier. Andre Leon Talley, a close friend, was also instrumental. Besides [Halston’s one-time muse] Elsa Peretti, there were a few others we would have liked to speak with who declined to participate.

If you had the chance, what would you ask Peretti?
I’d ask her about the whole creative process of being Halston’s muse. When did it come about and how exactly did she inspire him? Of course, we tried everything to get her to sit down for an interview, but unfortunately it never happened.

What would you have asked Halston if he were alive today?
I want to know if he knew just how much he touched everyone and if he understood how much that he achieved. I really don’t think he knew towards the end.

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The designer with a few "Halstonettes." Photo by Roxanne Lowit.

When did your obsession with Halston begin?
I think the fact that Halston was so revolutionary was what first got me interested. We started shooting this about four years ago. Halston was the first superstar American designer and his story is compelling in that it’s this Shakespearean rise and fall with an incredible historical backdrop.

What designers today are heavily influenced by Halston’s aesthetic?
You can see his minimalist influence in many designers’ work today, like in Michael Kors’ sleek furs and trouser suits, Derek Lam’s columns, and Marc Jacobs’ entire 2010 spring line.

If you had 30 minutes left in the documentary, what would you have added?
We had over 160 hours of footage that included tons of fantastic interviews and comments we couldn’t fit in. Everything out of artist Chris Makos’ mouth was genius—he really deserves a whole movie to himself.

What’s the story behind your various wigs in the film?
As the film is a bit of a surrealist pastiche and unconventional, I wanted to mix it up and provide some comic relief to an already pretty heavy story. My character is a bit of a Dante, taking you through the nine rings with ridiculous ’70s-style outfits and silly hair. I wanted to bring a little Borat into things.

Photos: Courtesy of Whitney Sudler-Smith

A Polaroid to Remember: Shots From On Set

Even if taken yesterday, there’s a certain something about polaroid photos that evokes a sense of stillness—a frozen in time quality with the warm sense of memory. And when it comes to film sets, polaroids run rampant for the sake of continuity with make up and such, but also provide a candid look behind-the-scenes at the making of a moment and what was like to truly inhabit it. There’s simply something lingering in the instant held image that you’re not going to gain so easily from snapping a few shots with your iPhone—or at least, that’s how it feels to me.

But from back in the days of Blade Runner to the most recent of film sets, it’s a pleasure to peruse the polaroids found floating around the feature, giving us insight into the on-set life and providing our favorite actors and scenes with even more character and charm. And thanks to the good folks over at Flavorwire, who have unearthed some of the best polaroid shots from your favorite films, you can get a closer glimpse at a young Johnny Depp, a demure Audrey Hepburn, a resting Gillian Anderson and many more. Take a look at some of our favorites below and see the rest HERE.

 

The X-Files, Gillian Anderson

 

 

Blade Runner, Harrison Ford and Sean Young

 

 

Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

 

 

 

Where The Buffalo Roam, Bill Murray and Hunter S. Thompson

 

 

Winona Ryder, Girl, Interuppted

 

 

New York, New York, Liza Minnelli and Martin Scorsese

 

Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Main Image: Johnny Depp, Benny & Joon

Liza Brings Out the Random & Wonderful at Rose Bar

The last time I was at Rose Bar, I explained to my friends Nick and Garrett, it was for an installment of Nur Khan’s Rose Bar Sessions—for Rufus Wainwright— and I ended up passing out early. Okay, so the correct way to say it would be that I blacked out early, waking up on the bathroom floor—my bathroom floor, thank goodness. The same thing happened the time before, when I’d stopped in for a “relaxing” post-work cocktail. Rose Bar is like that: one minute you’re discussing the merits of black coffee with Penn Badgley, the next your walking around in circles in the night air. It’s as if the place is filled with fun house mirrors that distort reality and fool you into thinking you’re extremely elegant as you slide down a slippery, wine-drenched slope. Maybe it’s because you feel like you’re part of the ambiance, and under the Keith Haring art, the elegance is vodka-proof. A fortress of refinement. Last night, we were in the front bar, curled over a candle-lit table debating the enduring mysticism of the place as Tony Danza strolled by with Alan Cumming. Maybe spotting Tony Micelli wasn’t out of the ordinary, considering we’d just enjoyed a show put on by Liza Minnelli herself, kicking off the fall season of Monday Rose Bar Sessions.

Minnelli performed several selections from her new album, Confessions, but of the six songs she performed, the highlight had to be “He’s a Tramp.” After escaping from yesterday’s rain storm, the first thing we felt comforted by was the fire place, the second hearing Liza perform in her jazzy, joking way. It just worked: a random dude stabbing keys on a big, beautiful piano, Liza tossing back her head to lyrics like “what a dog,” while Alan Cumming, Nur Khan, Mary Louise Parker, Tony Danza, and Sandra Bernhard sat together. A guest next to me whispered to her friend, “It’s okay if you have to cry.”

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That’s Rose Bar, or perhaps that’s Nur Khan, who is the fun house, creating mad-cap, jazzy evenings by curating the right people, the right performers, the right ambiance. While he’s been fleshing out Don Hill’s with acts like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Courteny Love, Minnelli’s performance might just have set a new tone for Rose Bar’s concert series, moving away from showcase-rockers like Slash and Dave Navarro to achieve an almost tongue-in-cheek, refined vibe at the Gramercy Park Hotel’s hotspot. That’s New York, isn’t it?

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(Photo: Seth Browarnik/WorldRedEye.com)