Doc ‘The First Monday in May’ Loses Its Focus — the Met’s China Exhibit — to Gape at Celebs


At one hectic point in Andrew Rossi’s The First Monday in May, a documentary outlining the production of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s hugely popular “China: Through the Looking Glass” exhibition, Chinese film director Wong Kar-wai declares, “Seeing too much is seeing nothing.”

Wong is one of many creative consultants on this exhibition, and his words serve as an apt critique of this stylish but troubling film. It’s produced in part by Condé Nast Entertainment, which has created a glossy advertisement for itself, with Anna Wintour as a key figure overseeing the increasingly stressful exhibition planning and celebrity wrangling with characteristic hauteur. Some issues arise: The real possibility of the exhibition coming across as imperialistic is briefly addressed, but everything gets too quickly resolved to be revealing.

Still, the documentary is not without its pleasures: The peeks at sumptuous couture layered with sequins and tulle, and handled delicately by a team of women in lab coats and gloves, bring to life the textures of seemingly untouchable clothes; a visit to the Yves Saint Laurent archive is catnip for those interested in vintage fashion. Early on, the curators in the Met’s costume division talk passionately about fashion as art, and the clothes speak for themselves.

It’s frustrating, then, when the final fifteen minutes essentially become a game of spot-the-celebrity, lavishing so much attention on celebrities we see too often to begin with (Kim Kardashian! George Clooney! Rihanna!). Rossi provides an attractive overview of the exhibition for those who did not attend it, but we are left feeling something like Wong, seeing a lot of pretty things surrounded by vapidity.

The First Monday in May
Directed by Andrew Rossi
Magnolia Pictures
Opens April 15, The Paris Theatre