Every so often a documentary shows up profiling a fashion industry figure in danger of being forgotten, or in danger of not having his or her legacy solidified posthumously or in the December of their years. The documentaries often feel like vanity projects, with the filmmakers working for their subjects instead of portraying them. This can leave the viewer wondering why they should care (Valentino) or better informed about where an iconic figure fits in the cultural era from which they came (Vidal Sasson: The Movie). The Eye Has to Travel, a portrait of late fashion editor Diana Vreeland, mostly falls in the latter category, despite being a family affair.
The film is directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, a granddaughter-in-law of Vreeland who never met the fashion maven but had archive access and raw fascination. Diana Vreeland, who died in 1989, provides the narrative voice thanks mainly to a recorded interview conducted by George Plimpton. Although some of the dates and causal events in her life are passed over, the rhythm and style carry the narrative forward until the last 20 minutes, when the film mostly meanders to the finish.
Regardless, Vreeland’s life story is far more interesting than the peeks into current Vogue editor and Prada-wearing devil Anna Wintour’s, as provided by 2009 film The September Issue. Vreeland emerged from Paris of the 1920s as an “It Girl” who understood what made “It,” celebrating the ’60s in the pages of Vogue after making her reputation at Harper’s Bazaar. Vreeland was the inspiration for characters in several movies, including Funny Face, but in The Eye Has to Travel she is celebrated for her emphasis on style over shallow materialism. “There’s only one really good life,” she declares early in the film. “And that’s the life you know you want, and you make it yourself.” MATT KELEMEN