The front doors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City read, “Closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, January 1, and the first Monday in May.” The latter is the focus of director Andrew Rossi’s aptly named documentary, “The First Monday in May.” Released April 15th of this year, the film follows the creative process and preparation behind the highest attended fashion exhibit in the MET’s history, China: Through the Looking Glass.
“The First Monday in May” showed Sunday, October 23, as part of the Docs to Watch series at the Savannah Film Festival and was followed by a panel discussion with the director.
Critics compared the film to one of Rossi’s earlier films, “Page One,” which explores how the Internet altered print media at the New York Times. This documentary bears a similar study style to “May” for its observation of an institution such as the MET and its subjects Andrew Bolton and Anna Wintour, the infamous editor-in-chief of Vogue.
The film’s inception began with a phone call from Wintour’s office, Rossi said. They wanted to discuss a project Wintour had been passionate about for a while, which derived from her viewing and liking of “Page One.”
“When I spoke with her about what the movie would be looking at, I made it very clear that I was not very interested in a movie about party planning per se, but rather about the creative process,” Rossi said.
Rossi referred to Andrew Bolton, Head Curator of the MET’s Costume Institute and costume curator for “China: Through the Looking Glass,” as a “disruptive force” because his department is a relatively new one at the museum.
“The sort of marriage between art and commerce here is that the gala is creating the message of the costume institute to help sustain it and draw visitors,” Rossi said, referring to this process as, “key to the making of the film.”
It was during their trip to Beijing, China with Bolton that Rossi realized the film had a real backbone. Questions of ethics and public taste arose from conversations about Chinese fashion included in the exhibit, cultural appropriation and acknowledging the sometimes questionable history of China.
“It’s amazing this exhibit gets channeled to the world, the very troubled past of the designers, even if the designers are responsible of negative images,” Rossi said.
Filming at the MET itself was very difficult, Rossi said, because the museum was concerned with the sanctity of its art.
“When we would film in the public spaces, you realize there are young kids, lots of people using the museum,” Rossi said. “It gets a lot of wear and tear actually, but we were very careful about where we moved.”
On Bolton, Rossi said he was incredibly patient throughout filming. According to Rossi, the MET is a political environment, which made it difficult at times to find quieter moments with Bolton.
Even after following Bolton and Wintour around, Rossi admitted, “I am not a fashion expert.”
“I think I was always drawn to fashion as a form of cultural expression,” He said.
Written by Emilie Kefalas.