We talk to the director of "Valentino, The Last Emperor" and what he learnt about great relationships, great fashion and why a film crew should never travel by rail...
How would you define “Valentino: The Last Emperor”? Documentary? Docu-fiction, docu-reality? Or would you rather not define it?
It’s a cinéma vérité documentary. I wanted it to be as pure a vérité piece as I could make it; this is the form that has no scripted narration. The characters tell their own story in their own words with through their own actions. The shooting and editing is very important in these films because you cannot rely on a script to mend gaps in the story.
How and when did you get the idea for the film?
I met Valentino and Giancarlo when I was sent to write about them for the American edition of Vanity Fair. I had never seen a relationship like theirs, and I thought that the story would make a good movie. “Valentino The Last Emperor” is about the relationship of two men. It’s not a fashion movie per se.
Swide’s grand ambition is to be ” always backstage”. Would you like to share any amusing anecdote from the set?
Once we came back from a shoot in Milan. It was for the mens’ collection. Just one day. When we were back filming in the Rome office, I saw Giancarlo. He said, “I’d like to speak with you for a moment. I understand the film crew took the train from Milan.” I said, “Yes, we did.” He replied, “I don’t think it is appropriate for the documentary crew of Mr. Valentino to take the train.” I think he was implying we should travel more luxuriously, by plane, for example. I had a quick reply: “Well, Valentino’s nephew happened to be sitting next to me on the same train.” He shot back: “Mr. Valentino’s nephew is not making a documentary on Valentino.” We sparred like this on some days, but, in the end, we always got along. I think this is Giancarlo’s way of trying to keep you on your toes. When things are going too smoothly, he likes to add some speed bumps. It makes it more interesting. But I was always grateful to Giancarlo, because, without him, we had no movie. He is the second protagonist in the film. It’s a much about him as it is about Valentino, and he also saw the possibilities of a film about Valentino and was willing to engage with me in discussions about making the movie from the start. It’s my first film, so this shows a real willingness to take chances and do new things which is extremely admirable. I also have to say that no matter how hard we fought, in the end, they are always gentlemen, and will invite you to lunch or dinner to work things out. So, we kept moving forward.
A new kind of front row... Pugs on a (private) plane!
You seem to have paid a lot of attention to emotions and relationships and that is a really enjoyable aspect of your film, well done! Were you feeling admirative of Mr Valentino and Mr Giammetti?
There is no movie without the relationship between the two men. Certainly one of my motives for making the movie was to show the world this close relationship between two men. It’s a 50-year “marriage” and it’s very moving. I do admire it. In the end, I think you end up admiring Valentino more for his relationship than you do for his amazing talent and career.
Were you already around and filming in 2006 and 2007 or did you use archive footage?
We filmed from 2005 to 2008. Most of the film is original footage. You can tell what is archival, because we masked the screen for the archival sequences to show that we were in a different mode. The black and white archival is really wonderful.
Valentino notoriously is a great designer but he also comes across as a great, very charismatic man. What about him has stunned you the most?
I was not really very educated about fashion when I started the project, so the process of making alta moda was very interesting to me. I was surprised that Valentino was so involved in the designs. I think a lot of people assume that a designer so famous is more of an editor, but Valentino, I discovered, is really an artist-designer, so it was amazing to see him work, and to see the seamstresses as work. They are artists in their own way as well.
Did you ever hit any low during filming? If so when?
We had many lows and many highs. There were some days when Valentino said he was quitting the film. I thought we would have to finish it without him, which was going to be nearly impossible. But he always came back to the set, in the end. You can see him quitting in the movie. It happens on camera.
Who produced and funded the film?
I am the producer, along with Matt Kapp. Carter Burden is the executive producer and Adam Leff is the co-executive producer. There is a partnership that funded the movie, and I put in the early money myself. We distributed the movie ourselves in the U.S. and we met with great success, and I happy to report. It was hard to do, and it’s rare to have a theatrical success, so I am pleased!
Your film is a must-see for all Swide readers, we’re massive fans of the film and even bigger fans of yours; would you be so kind as to tell us what you are currently working on?
I am in planning stages on a few projects but I can’t announce them yet...
Another chance to get excited about the film.
With special thanks to Matt Tyrnauer for his kindness and availability.
Photo credits: Courtesy of Valentino, The Last Emperor