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Movie review: ‘Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s’

Posted 6:49am on Friday, May. 17, 2013

PG-13 (brief sexual reference); 93 min.

In the previous century, the documentary Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s might have just seemed disconcertingly elitist. Bergdorf Goodman is a department store that only the rich can shop at, as in really shop, while the rest of us can browse, gape at the chandeliers and then buy something very small and overpriced, just so that we can feel that we exist.

Yet with the Internet wiping out so many retail companies, a place like Bergdorf’s, though apparently still thriving, feels like an endangered species, and that changes the equation. I don’t know how long Bergdorf’s will continue to exist, but I’m glad it still does, in the same way I’m glad the caribou still exists, even though I’ve never had one walk through my living room. As this documentary shows, Bergdorf Goodman has exerted a tremendous influence on fashion and American life for many decades, even if we don’t realize it, and the decisions made by the buyers at this one store have been responsible for launching lifelong careers and billion-dollar fashion empires.

But the appeal of Bergdorf’s, as presented in the documentary, goes beyond that. It’s like the last totem of an almost vanished New York, where women wore pearls and people talked like Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf.

Many of the biggest names in fashion turn up in this documentary, people you almost never see but know by name, or label — Manolo Blahnik, Giorgio Armani — and this shows the clout that this store still has.

In the end, the appeal of Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s is the same as that of a nature documentary or some study of the Tibetan saltmen. It’s the appeal of watching a detailed elucidation of a world you barely know of but that feels like life and death for those in the midst of it. Even if you don’t expect to enjoy this film, you probably will.

Exclusive: Angelika Dallas; Cinemark West Plano

— Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

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