There's a scene towards the end of Robert Altman's Pret-A- Porter which literally strips the fashion world bare. Dumb blonde TV reporter Kitty Potter (played by the far-from dumb Kim Basinger) suddenly realises that the glamourous events she's paid to cover, represent nothing more than empty, meaningless bullshit. Fashion. Is that all there is?
History recalls the majority of critics were asking the same question about Altman's film, and arrived at pretty much the same conclusion as recited in 'Potter's Last Stand.' Far be it for me to suggest the thumbs-down brigade were out to lunch with their considered opinions, but I find Pret-A-Porter to be hugely entertaining, and full of uniformly good (rather than isolated great) performances which are a total delight.
Altman's film takes a humorous, sometimes farcical look at the Ready-To-Wear Paris fashion shows, where models, designers and journalists join together in not-so perfect harmony; trust me, there's more than enough going on to keep you glued to the screen for the duration, though accusations that Ready-To-Wear (a much better title) neither informs nor entertains are decidedly off-putting for potential viewers. The former assertion does hold more than a few grains of truth: Altman makes little attempt at really getting under the skin of The Fashion Show, leaving his audience none the wiser with regard to the business and preparatory aspects of such a major event. Perfectionists will undoubtedly point to what may be a considerable oversight, but I was more than happy to sit back and enjoy a fine cast performing with style.
We've got Tim Robbins and Julia Roberts forsaking their journalistic duties to spend the entire week getting to know each other better, aided by copious quantities of wine, and interspersed by the odd row; the deal here is the pair are totally oblivious to the media circus and the hot news story of the-murder-that-never-was!
There's also high jinx aplenty when a trio of fashion editors (Tracy Ullman, Sally Kellerman and Linda Hunt) fall foul of a demented Irish snapper (Stephen Rea) who bags a succession of career-threatening photos (watch out for Kellerman's reprise of a certain scene from M*A*S*H). Meanwhile, Lyle Lovett does bugger all (and does it hilariously, too), Rupert Everett strives to 'keep it in the family' with his sister-in-law and Richard E. Grant almost steals the show with his "She doesn't have to have legs" speech - priceless!
A word too for Altman's 'Golden Oldies', who include the wonderful Lauren Bacall, Loren and Marcello Mastroianni (replaying a scene from Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow), plus Anouk Aimee putting the cat amongst the pigeons with what can only be described as The Clothes Off show!
Viewers will also be delighted to spot cameos from Cher, Harry Belafonte, Rossy de Palma, Teri Garr and all-too brief appearances by the gorgeous Helena Christensen.
In the final analysis, Pret-A-Porter probably rates about 6.5 on the Altman-ometer, which means it's pretty darned good.
Maverick director responsible for some of the most distinctive American films of the last 35 years. After serving in the military during the 1940s, Altman learnt his filmmaking craft by making advertisements and training films before breaking into TV, where he worked throughout the sixties. Altman's breakthrough feature was MASH in 1970, an acerbic Oscar-winning Korean war comedy that introduced his chaotic, overlapping narrative style. Throughout the seventies, Altman turned in a series of acclaimed films including Images, Brewster McCloud, California Split, The Long Goodbye, the western McCabe & Mrs Miller and the brilliant musical drama Nashville. The 1980s proved to be less successful, as Altman struggled in a decade of slick blockbusters to raise funds for his idiosyncratic movies; nevertheless, the likes of Popeye, Fool for Love and Vincent & Theo were all flawed but interesting work.
Altman returned to the A-list of directors with 1992's cameo-laden Hollywood satire The Player, which was followed by the superb ensemble drama Short Cuts, based on the stories of Raymond Carver. Since then until his death Altman turned in almost a film a year, which ranged from the great (Gosford Park, The Company) to the less impressive (Dr T & The Women, The Gingerbread Man), but always intelligent and unusual. At over 80, Altman remained an outspoken anti-Hollywood figure who showed no sign of slowing down right until the end, with his last film A Prairie Home Companion released in 2006.