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The First Monday in May: An Exhibit behind the Scenes

World Premiere to open up Tribeca Film Festival 2016

The First Monday in May

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures 

An unprecedented look behind the scenes of the Met exhibition, “China: Through The Looking Glass,” and the star-studded fundraiser that celebrated it. But "The First Monday in May" is more than a vanity piece. The film also looks at the history of the Met’s Costume Institute

For me, the quick cut of a sign inside the bowels of the Metropolitan Museum of Art says it all, “Yield to Art in Transit”.  In fact, that could be the theme of this film.  While this documentary focuses on the The First Monday in May (one of the Met’s few closed days during the year AND the day of the Met Ball), the film also raises the idea that fashion has become the “fine art” of this century. But I leave it to viewers to decide if they agree.

What “First Monday” gives us is an insider’s look at the 8-month process that goes into launching a show of this magnitude at the venerable art museum; and creating the biggest fund-raising gala of the year to support it. To date, $120,000,000 has been raised through the Met Ball, due in large part to Anna Wintour, its co-host.   

But this is more than a vanity piece. The film also looks at the history of the Met’s Costume Institute and its exhibits starting in 2011 when Exhibition Curator Andrew Bolton dared to suggest an homage to the recently deceased, Alexander McQueen.  We also get an intimate glimpse of Andrew’s childhood in England and the steps to his “dream job” at the Met. And, we see the monumental effort that went into creating China: Through the Looking Glass, the 2015 exhibit which featured 150 costumes and accessories set against a backdrop of Chinese paintings, films, porcelains and other fine art.

The months of preparation that went into it are utterly mind-boggling, as are the number of people involved: lighting designers, the people who unpack the costumes, and the set designers, to name just a few. On the “ball” side, we get a glimpse of the “girls” who meticulously plot the seating assignments of artists, actors, and singers; and even the gal who worries about celebrity budgets, especially Rianna’s.  We also hear from Anna Wintour; Thomas Campbell (Director of the Met); Andrew Bolton; Film Director and Artistic Director of the exhibit, Wong Kar Wai; designer Guo Pei, Harold Koda (then head of the Costume Institute), Karl Lagerfeld, and even photog, Bill Cunningham, who not so subtly disses it all.

But the real kudos go to Andrew Rossi for his very delicate and unobtrusive touch. The camera is always there but no one (except the celebs) appears to see it or be playing to it. And the camera work is stunning; the zooms are understated and the dolly moves lend each scene an air of serenity in the midst of controlled chaos. The music, by husband and wife team, Ian & Sofia Hultquist, is subtle and unobtrusive, always supporting and enhancing the scenes without overwhelming them. And the editing is seamless and inventive. My favorite cut was the transition from the 30’s B&W film with Victor Mature saying, “The real boss is a remarkable lady, the most cold-blooded dragon you’ll ever meet. She’ll devour you like a cat swallows a mouse” … to a close-up of Anna Wintour in her limo.

In fact, my only complaint was the miscellaneous and silly celebrity comments near the end of the film – “I love a girl who comes from nothing”; “Ooh”; “Wow”; and thankfully, care of Michael Kors, “Who Cares”!!!

The [real] ending with Andrew Bolton walking alone through the galleries with no narration but just soft music playing underneath spoke volumes, as did the hundreds of “real” people lined up outside and inside of the MET to see the exhibit … over 800,00 of them in all.

The First Monday in May will open the Tribeca Film Festival Wednesday, April 13th at 7.00pm and will be screened again on Tuesday, April 14th at 9.00pm.  The theatrical release date is April 14th.

Watch the trailer of The First Monday in May:

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