To celebrate the lavish legacy of Bergdorf Goodman, the world’s toniest department store, writer-director Matthew Miele has made a department store of a documentary, stocked to the hilt with an obscene inventory of storylines, talking heads, and utterly tasteless choices. Culturally ignorant, shamelessly subjective, and frantically busy in both structure and form, Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s plays like a masturbatory hat tip to the upper class as envisioned by Paul Greengrass. It places what must be well over 50 guests in front of its camera, and for every worthwhile insight from folks like Shark Tank’s Barbara Corcoran, who provides straight facts about the building’s history, or Michael Kors, who tells of how he was discovered across the street before building his fashion empire, there’s a dizzying chorus of needless commentators like Nicole Ritchie and Candice Bergen, who share the screen with virtually every designer in the business. In a cheap attempt at instant credibility, the countless names are pushed like labels, and combined with Miele’s impossible, scatterbrained ambitions, it all tramples on Coco Chanel’s mantra of ditching an item before leaving the house.
Miele seems to assume that having the store as a subject will instantly unite his study’s disparate threads, a misconception underlined by the jumpy inconsistency of each. Identified by a title card in the store’s signature font, a chapter like “The Women” aims to profile the evolving female client, then runs off on a tangent about how Yoko Ono and John Lennon once bought 84 fur coats for $400,000. The director’s idea of a smooth transition is using a passing mention of Halston to launch into a biography of the designer (leaving any apparent through line in the dust), or pairing stills of Jackie O with Michelle Obama in a Jason Wu ensemble, as if the film—which is also narrated, intermittently and inexplicably, by William Fichtner—weren’t about a store, but American icons’ ties to fashion in general.
The movie title is lifted from the caption of an iconic New Yorker cartoon, and it’s first acknowledged when Susan Lucci, another superfluous interviewee, explains that she once heard the sentiment expressed by a fellow shopper. She’s then shocked to learn it’s also the name of the film she’s in. Scatter My Ashes’s off-putting self-awareness snowballs as it rolls on, especially when Miele introduces the major players at the helm, like fashion director Linda Fargo, who’s described as the anti-Anna Wintour, but is ultimately rendered as near-deplorable and phony. As cognizant of the camera as an amateur reality show subject, the Bergdorff “gatekeeper” waxes ecstatic about the “privilege” of accessing the store after hours, and is seen mentoring “new designer” Ally Hilfiger, a famed heiress who, however genuine-seeming, needs her own fashion line like Jerry Seinfeld needs a new car.
We may have passed the period in which it was insensitive to make a movie glorifying grand commercial excess, but Scatter My Ashes can’t even own its identity as a snobs-only doc. Disingenuously straining to expand its audience, it has the audacity to open with the workday commute of a seemingly modest guy, who’s revealed to be a Bergdorf doorman (we later learn that some floor employees, if not doormen, can collect more than $400,000 a year). There’s a single mention of the economy, specifically regarding how things are now better for high-end businesses, and then the action cuts to an in-store, celebrity-filled party, which, if not tacky enough, is scored to Duck Sauce’s “Barbra Streisand” and intercut with flashes of colorful Babs portraits.
Miele’s poor excuse for an overarching narrative is the creation of Bergdorf’s breathtaking 2011 holiday window display, “Carnival of the Animals,” overseen by head window designer David Hoey. Like Fargo, Hoey is cringingly aware of the camera’s presence, and his remarks of the windows being “for the children” sound hideous when the creation of a Bergdorf vanity project is so suffocatingly palpable. The film ends with tourists and passersby marveling at the artistry behind the storefront glass. It’s laughably presented as a noble unifier, but unfolds like a cold division of class, with the rabble walled off from the riches of the empire. If any of those street-side gawkers value a shred of Bergdorf Goodman’s chic mystique, they’d best avoid Miele’s bumbling insult at all costs.