Exclusive: Director Kate Novack Talks The Gospel According To AndréPosted by Wilson Morales
May 24, 2018
Coming out this week from Magnolia Pictures is The Gospel According To André, the forthcoming feature-length film about the legendary fashion editor André Leon Talley.
André Leon Talley has been a fixture in the world of fashion for so long that it’s difficult to imagine a time when he wasn’t defining the boundaries of great style. Director Kate Novack’s intimate portrait, The Gospel According to André takes viewers on an emotional journey from André’s roots growing up in the segregated Jim Crow South to become one of the most influential tastemakers and fashion curators of our times.
Novack’s film draws fascinating, heretofore unexplored connections, between the elegance of André’s beloved grandmother and the Black Church of his youth and his later iconic, barrier-breaking work at publications like Women’s Wear Daily, W and Vogue. Weaving together a wealth of archival footage from the most glamorous moments in fashion history with André’s poignant reflections on his life and career, The Gospel According to André is a cinematic monument to one of the most unique figures of 20th Century American culture.
Blackfilm.com spoke exclusively with Novak, who’s making her directorial debut after co-writing and co-producing Andrew Rossi’s Page One: Inside the New York Times, and co-producing Ivory Tower, about working with Talley on presenting his life story on camera.
For those who don’t know André Leon Talley, why do his story?
Kate Novack: I had been watching André appear in fashion documentaries for about 20 years since I saw him in “Unzipped” the film in 1996. Always amused, over the top, larger than life, scene stealing performances, but he was always talking about someone else or commentating about someone else. He himself had an interesting story. To me, it seemed like a glaring omission that there had not been a film about him.
Was it an easier pursuit to get him to agree for you to do his story?
Kate Novack: Yeah. My producer Andrew Rossi had a directed a film about a year or two ago called “The First Monday in May,” which is about the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and in that film Andrew spent a lot of time filming Anna Wintour. That helped a lot. That got us all to the table together and André had worked with Andre Wintour. So we all went to lunch in New York City and I had read André’s autobiography, which does talk about his childhood. He would talked about this hymm in church and cry. Precious memories that are actually at the end of the film. The song is about memories being the sustaining force. I listened to the song after I read the book. As we went to lunch with him, that was my pitch to him.
I told him how I was moved by his connection to that song and what that song means and what formed him as a person. I figured he would go for it or he won’t, but that was my honest, sincere interest. André said that right away the first thing they would need to do is go to his childhood church and he would show me the place where he was baptized. We had a nice lunch and the next day I gotvan email from him thst said, “I don’t know why, but I feel really trusting of you. Let’s do this.” It really then moved very quickly. We filmed with him for about a year. He’s someone that goes on with his instincts and I think he thought this would work.
The film isn’t set from birth to his life now. We see parts of his life in phases. Was that intentional?
Kate Novack: We started editing a bit while we were filming and in working closely with my editors and my producer Andrew Rossi, it emerged that we wanted the movie to be André’s gospel. That’s why it’s called The Gospel According to André and it’s organized into four chapters. That was the organizing principle of the film. I wanted audiences to spend time with him in the here and now, but I think what’s really interesting also is his life story. As we filmed more and more, it became clear that we wanted him to tell his life story.
Were there certain elements of his life that he decided not to included in the film?
Kate Novack: He was not involved in the editing room. I feel that he showed a lot of vulnerability. He talks about his love life. He talks about racism that he has faced over the years. He also allowed the cameras to see him in an intimate moment like when he’s getting a facial, or getting a haircut at the barber. He never said to me, “That’s off limits.”
What’s the most fascinating thing that you learned about André that you didn’t know before?
Kate Novack: There is a side of him that is deeply spiritual, deeply connected with nature. He’s a person who has real need for quiet and solitude and privacy, and that’s not part of his public persona. It was really interesting to get to know the other facets of André.
Having spent of year of your life, travel and researching his life, how have you grown as a filmmaker?
Kate Novack: I think one of the things that’s inspiring about André in general is that his mind works in such a way he draws inspiration and inferences from everything around him. He says in the film that, “You have to approach the world with kaleidoscope eyes of a child.” I that he does. That’s been inspiring to me as a filmmaker. It’s easy for us to be jaded and approach the world openly and without judgement and with a sense of wonder because you never know what will come of it.
What’s a good reason to see this film in theaters?
Kate Novack: The film is a fun, fast ride through a really fascinating and complex character’s life. André is the entertainer that we all know and I also think that he’s an important figure in American and African American cultural history and I hope the movie operates on both levels.
What’s next for you?
Kate Novack: I’m developing a film about Sigmund Freud and his first published case studies. It has to do with 19th Century attitudes toward women. Freud is also a great writer and writes in a novelistic way. It’s very different in many ways.
Magnolia Pictures will release THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRÉ in theaters May 25, 2018