For once I didn’t have to look for a film, this one found me all by itself! Front page of the New York Times web site, in a fancy pull-down banner ad. So yes, this means once again I’ve fallen for a glorified commercial. This one comes courtesy of Prada, and features the cinematic talents of art-world sensation Yang Fudong, designing the film as a centerpiece to the company’s rollout of the spring men’s line.
First Spring is rapturously shot in B&W digital, and revolves around three couples—snappily dressed of course, as they traverse a bygone Shanghai on the cusp of modernity. The film is dreamy and vague, yet rich in detail, providing an engaged viewer a wealth of material in which to dissect meaning, yet surely will frustrate the casual viewer with its lack of dialogue, perplexing narrative, and its (potentially) non-linear presentation.
Yang is an interesting choice for a promo film. Hardly a household name, yet growing in critical estimation, he just recently had his 5-hour opus Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest make its stateside debut over the summer. He is considered a rising star of independent-filmmaking in mainland China, but his output, though possessing the visual fetishism and spiritual melancholy that typifies some of the best work to come from that country, can be seen as similar to the more opaque works of the nouvelle vague, with its self conscious profundities, and deliberately challenging stance towards audiences. The concisest summary of Yang’s career and aesthetic can be read here.
Fashion has always maintained close contact with the arts via the photography and the various forms of design necessary to market its product, not to mention the aesthetics of the garments themselves. Therefore I have found the recent trend in fashion films to be logical, yet fascinating. First Spring, seems an interesting progression of this trend, as it moves explicitly towards the art-side of filmmaking and away from the commercial leanings of previous high profile fashion films, such as Dior’s Lady Noire Affair, Jean Pierre Jeunet’s piece for Chanel no.5., or even Murakami’s artistic, yet accessibly pop films for Louis Vuitton.
The fashion consumer, that most prized of commodity, tends to appreciate fashion on a level far above mere status; they are appreciators of construction, technique, taste and most of all history—the narrative behind the brand and the way the pieces comment and innovate within a shared history of fashion. This sort of cultured sensibility is similar in so many ways to the consumer of modern art across mediums, and Prada seems to recognize that by commissioning a fashion film that feels more at home in a museum than on the web.