Entertainment » Movies

Matt Tyrnauer Gets Very Valentino

by Tony Phillips
Thursday Jun 4, 2009

I’m sorry," Vanity Fair scribe Matt Tyrnauer apologizes for the metal-on-metal squeal that’s either the M-103 or Manhattan’s latest terror siege, "I’m on Lexington." The physical shift this downtown type has made to an advertising main drag adjacency is a figurative one for Tyrnauer as well since he spent the last three years of his life seven blocks west on Fashion Avenue.

His documentary, Valentino: The Last Emperor, found him trailing the out, Italian fashion icon down Rome, Paris and London’s equivalents to Seventh Avenue for two years as well. There was also a year spent holed up in the editing suite. But these days, Tyrnauer’s got a movie to sell: Hello, Lex.

The out Angeleno grew up a Hollywood insider. Dad was a show runner for the likes of "Columbo" and "Murder, She Wrote." But in true Bret Easton Ellis style, Tyrnauer ditched Babylon for the go-go 80s New York, where he took up with its resident Nero: Graydon Carter. Tyrnauer worked on Carter’s fabled publication Spy and then made the leap with his mentor when Carter took over Vanity Fair.

Tyrnauer spent 17 years at that title, where he penned memorable interviews of the above mentioned Easton Ellis and Martha Stewart, both before and after the fall, as well as that landmark in gay journalism: his Siegfried and Roy interview, that helped carve a place of pride for that publication on any Fire Island summer house coffee table.

In 2004, Tyrnauer profiled Italian the sublime, at times gloriously tacky, fashion designer Valentino Garavani and the two got on like a house on fire. It was shortly thereafter that Tyrnauer decided to shelf celebrity journalism, dust off his Wesleyan film degree and take up with both Valentino and his 50-year beau and business partner Giancarlo Giammetti full-time.

The results are probably best summed up by fashion doyenne Polly Mellen in the last great fashion documentary, the Isaac Mizrahi chronicle "Unzipped." "This erases everything," Mellen was reported to crow after a preview of Mizrahi’s latest collection, "You just made fashion history." If that’s true, then Tyrnauer has just rewritten it.

A visual subject

Tony Phillips: If the glossy magazine feature goes anywhere after publication, it’s usually to a publishing house where it’s blown out into a book. What made you decide to go the cinema verite route with Mr. Garavani?

Matt Tyrnauer: Well, a book and an article are relatively similar in that they’re in the same medium, but I thought it would be really interesting to try and do this in a different form because Valentino is such a visual subject. And I have a degree in film that I never really put to use. I’d been writing about figures like this that are very larger than life and have these extraordinary careers. None is more colorful than Valentino. He’s a great, iconic presence so I thought I would try my hand in a new medium and he gave me the right subject.

Tony Phillips: Your Siegfried and Roy portrait comes pretty close in terms of color.

Matt Tyrnauer: Well, I think there are some similarities between the characters.

Tony Phillips: Absolutely.

Matt Tyrnauer: Both stories are about enduring relationships that happen to be about two gay men who have these kinds of interlocking lives and careers and are very mutually dependant on each other. They are extraordinarily rich and famous, at the very tops of their professions, and, for me, they’re both the stories of a marriage. This is what the Valentino story is, really, the story of a partnership and a marriage. Siegfried and Roy is exactly the same thing on that level.

Tony Phillips: It’s interesting to insert yourself into a marriage, in any sort of context, but particularly into a 50-year relationship. What was that dynamic like?

Matt Tyrnauer: Well, you know, as a journalist or a documentarian, you are an interloper. You are by definition intruding. But you raise a good point; the dynamic between all three of us was very interesting. Here you have this 50-year - I call it a "mega-marriage" because it spans generations - gay partnership that’s just incredible because it defies all odds. I became present, and when you stick around with a camera long enough, the characters start to talk to the camera and tell the camera things that they can’t tell each other. In any marriage, as close as you are, there are things you can never quite bring yourself to tell your loved one. And I think this documentary camera became a way of doing that. I began to see it happen. I think the most noticeable example of that is near the end of the film when Giancarlo decides to tell Valentino that he looks too tan.

Tony Phillips: I love that scene.

Matt Tyrnauer: But he had every opportunity over 50 years to say that.

Upper photo :: Valentino in a still from "Valentino: The Last Emperor."

Lower photo :: journalist and filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer


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