Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston vs. Carol Channing: Larger Than Life, two documentaries about legends of decades past and the stars who still love them.
PremiseUltrasuede: In Search of Halston chronicles the life and ebb and flow of Roy Halston Frowick, also known as Halston, the ’70s fashion designer who was a legend in his era for his clothing and his personality. Though Halston died over two decades ago, many of his friends and fellow Studio 54 partygoers participate in the documentary to help recreate the designer as he was: for Liza Minnelli, he was the epitome of movie-star glamour, for Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley, he was a talented American designer whose chic, fun and naughty designs still hold up today.
Carol Channing: Larger than Life follows the life of another star: Carol Channing, dubbed “The First Lady of Musical Comedy.” Now 90, Channing is still on the stage, as feisty as ever and ready to tell her life story on screen: from her marriage to her middle-school sweetheart 70 years after their meeting, to the five decades she spent on the Broadway stage, the place she holds forever in showbiz history, and how she still isn’t ready to give up center stage. Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston and Carol Channing: Larger than Life will no doubt be thoroughly epic, though Channing’s story promises a happy ending and Halston’s does not. Maybe it’s morbid of us, but there’s something tantalizing about watching a catastrophic rise and fall from grace. We’re giving it to Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston.Advantage: Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston
The IconHow do you choose between the two? Both Halston and Channing are unique specimens, with great charm and widespread influence. Halston helped define the ’70s with his style and personality. He was a staple at Studio 54, the life of the party who drew celebrities to himself, and just in case you don’t believe it, there are plenty of black and white photos of him getting down with the best of them for proof: Mick and Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli, Liz Taylor, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Yves Saint Laurent and many more. Carol Channing had just the same magnetism, only her arena was the stage. With footage of Channing entertaining from her early years to today, it’s clear to see the lady was cut from a different cloth. The nonagenarian is still kicking on center stage with such vivacity that even we were charmed in the few seconds of the trailer. Even with a voice so nasal, we can’t help but be attracted to her personality. For still going strong, Channing takes the win.Advantage: Carol Channing: Larger Than Life
Star IntervieweesBoth documentaries have their fair share of famous talking heads; Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston is brimming with them. The film features some of the designer’s leading ladies, Liza Minnelli, his models Anjelica Huston and Pat Cleveland, fellow designers Diane Von Furstenberg and Thom Browne, journalists (and former Interview editors) Glenn O’Brien and Bob Colacello, Cathy Horyn of the New York Times, Vogue’s André Leon Talley; even Billy Joel makes the cut. Carol Channing: Larger Than Life includes acting greats Debbie Reynolds, Phyllis Diller, Tippi Hedren, Angela Lansbury, Lily Tomlin, as well as costume designer to the stars, Bob Mackie, and of course, Channing herself. Both films certainly bring their A-game when it comes to their interview subjects, but we can’t help being drawn into the glamorous glory days as recounted by Halston’s crew.Advantage: Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston
Festival CredBetween them, Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston and Carol Channing: Larger Than Life gained entrance into 10 film festivals. Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston, however, can only take one of those credits, having been an official selection in the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. Then there’s Carol Channing’s documentary, which was an official selection in 2011’s Tribeca Film Festival, as well as the Aspen Film Fest, Vancouver and Chicago International Film Festivals, and many more. Perhaps the Halston doc was going for exclusivity by being entered in only one festival—but then, it’s only being released stateside two years later, while Channing’s film is already, however minimally, making it to the theaters.Advantage: Carol Channing: Larger Than Life
DirectorBoth documentaries’ directors are fairly unknown. Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston‘s director, Whitney Sudler-Smith, has three directorial credits to his name, including the Halston film. The director of Carol Channing: Larger than Life, Dori Berinstein, has a little more going on: Berinstein directed TV’s short-lived The Isaac Mizrahi Show, Eavesdropping with Alan Cumming, and three other documentaries, one also about showbiz named ShowBusiness: The Road to Broadway and another about the New Jersey Nets’ first-ever senior citizen hip-hop dance team, called Gotta Dance. From the trailers, it seems both directors had some success in their endeavors. For someone with little experience, Sudler-Smith seems to have kicked up his skill a notch, nabbing some serious subjects to interview; and Berinstein did what she did best.Advantage: Tie
VerdictThough we ultimately have a tie, we’re probably going to see Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston first. While we have been seriously charmed by Carol Channing and her story, we’ve also been taken in by Halston’s. With so many heavyweights touting his talents in an era where the Halston brand may be back on the upswing after taking some knocks, we can’t help but be enticed. Maybe Fashion Week’s already getting to us.Winner: Tie
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