Scattershot, by Rita Cannon
Scatter My Ashes At Bergdorf’s is a documentary about a currently operating business, so it’s reasonable to expect that it’s basically going to be a feature-length commercial for the famous New York department store, and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that. The film makes a big fuss about how iconic Bergdorf Goodman is, and what a timeless symbol of sophistication, glamour, aspiration, and success it is for so many people. Apparently, a lot of people have a lot of feelings about Bergdorf Goodman, which could make for a great documentary if the filmmaker can get the viewer equally swept up in those feelings. Sadly, director Matthew Miele doesn’t really manage to do that. This film is a commercial, and an especially shallow one at that.
One of the biggest issues with Scatter My Ashes is that isn’t really about anything, apart from the fact that Bergdorf Goodman is the most glamorous place in the world. It goes a little bit into the history of the store and the men who founded it, but only a little. These bits of backstory are scattered throughout the film, and narrated by William Fichtner, of all people. The bulk of the film is split between interviews with various people from the fashion world gushing about how singularly wonderful Bergdorf’s is (which gets pretty boring after a while), and more in-depth profiles of three key characters at Bergdorf’s: senior vice president and women’s fashion director Linda Fargo, in-house personal shopper Betty Halbreich, and window display designer David Hoey. These profiles are the most interesting part of the film, because they’re actually about somebody doing something. We follow Fargo, seemingly the nicest and approachable person who has ever worked in fashion (the film gets a lot of mileage out of comparing her to legendarily chilly Vogue editor Anna Wintour) as she meets with some designers hoping to sell their wares at Bergdorf’s. These scenes are pretty low drama, but it’s sort of interesting to see how Fargo makes her decisions, and she’s such a charming person that it would pleasant to just watch her do paperwork all day. Fargo has a nice foil in Halbreich, whose whole thing is that she’s brutally honest with the people she’s dressing, even if they’re movie stars. But by far the most involving section concerns Hoey and his famously elaborate holiday window displays. To even call it a window display is to undersell it; they’re more like spectacular, opulent art installations, their own ornate little worlds, with a gorgeous designer dress nestled in the center like a jewel. The dresses are usually designed after the fact to fit in with Hoey’s display, rather than the other way around, and it’s easy to see why. In a film preoccupied with glamour and aesthetic beauty, the creation and unveiling of these displays are the only things that really make you sit back and say, “Wow, that’s beautiful.”
The rest of the film pales in comparison – unless you love hearing mildly wacky stories about celebrities spending money, in which case, buckle up, because this movie is packed with them. The film’s press kit promises “fabulous untold stories,” but it’s really the same story told over and over again, and it can be summed up like this: “Once, [Famous Person] came in at [Unusual Time of Day] and bought [Very Large Number] [Expensive Item]s! I’ll never forget that day!” If only Scatter My Ashes had spent more time showing us the specialness of Bergdorf’s, and less time talking about it.