There’s a lot to forgive in writer-director Frédéric Tcheng’s documentary about the fashion designer who went from putting the pillbox hat on Jackie Kennedy to declaring that he wanted to dress all of America, starting with the framing device of a lady investigator trying to figure out “Whatever happened to Halston?” (Actual line she is required to deliver: “They say that when it rains it pours, and a perfect storm was about to happen when his good friend David Mahoney threw him into the belly of the whale.”) Other offenses: wretched videotaped images (admittedly, not Tcheng’s fault, but still hard on the eyes), a seeming refusal to elevate the meaningful above the merely informational, and a shying away from aspects that are obviously important but also difficult (hello, longtime lover Victor Hugo). But how can you stay mad at something so chock full of delicious detail about a man who actually lined his office walls with mirrors? Whose passion to, in the dismissive words of his one-time hero Charles James, “put his name on” things ultimately cost him the right to do just that? The storyline is pretty standard: genius misfit from small-town America makes good in the big city, only to be undone by the very drive and ambition that brought him to the top. And the talking heads are talking heads. But happily, the telling is propulsive, and the heads belong to some less-than-usual suspects. (2019) — Matthew Lickona
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