Grade: C+/B-
2017, 89 min., Color
Documentary
Music Box Films
Not rated (would be G)

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: B-
Trailer
Amazon link

As a documentary, Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards is a product of the times. Reality TV programming has pushed the public’s fascination with celebrity and celebrities to an extent that we haven’t really seen since the Golden Age of Hollywood and the initial proliferation of gossip magazines. Atypical of road-to-success biographies, this film offers an adorational profile of high fashion “cobbler” Manolo Blahnik— one that celebrates the designer’s personality and celebrity more than it explains his methods or his rise to prominence.

The title is literal. As a young boy Blahnik, who grew up in the Canary Islands, really did make tiny little shoes for the lizards that he would catch and play with. But as I said, this isn’t the standard biography that proceeds chronologically in order to explain how that young boy grew up to be one of the most influential fashion figures of the 20th and now 21st century. It’s not emphasized how he lived with his aunt and uncle and how the latter helped his fashion tastes to evolve, and we really don’t learn much about the early transformative years.

The first two-thirds of the film is devoted to creating an impressionistic portrait of the flamboyant Spanish designer, reinforcing how big he actually is in world pop culture and fashion. We see celebrity after celebrity fawning all over Blahnik or his shoes and quickly deduce that he was the main designer on the radar of the rich and famous—both entertainers and political royalty. Blahnik repopularized the stiletto heel and when high-fashion footwear was called for in the movies, he was often the one costume designers turned to—with one film, Marie Antoinette, offered as an extended example. But mostly we hear people talking about Blahnik and we hear Blahnik talking about his life.

It’s not until the last third of the film that we actually get a few specific details on how Blahnik’s celebrity and high-level of success came about, though the impressionistic structure of the documentary still carries through. By the end of the film you feel as if you have some sense of who Blahnik is, why he’s important, and just how famous he really is. Quirks such as his germaphobia-driven white gloves seem to take on an air of normalcy as we listen to him and watch him go through interviews and book-signings and other events. Yet, you still have questions about his life.

Blahnik is really just a co-star in his own biographic documentary. The other stars are the shoes themselves, and director Michael Roberts showcases them as much as he does their creator—not so much how they were made or designed, mind you, but more of a celebration of them as pop culture celebrities themselves. As a result, Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards feels like a fan film, a tribute film.

If your family is into TV shows like Project Runway and Say Yes to the Dress, this documentary will be of interest. Any budding designers in the family won’t exactly find tricks of the trade or a template for success, but Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards will reinforce the high-camp glitz of the fashion world enough to where they’ll be confirmed in their dreams of wanting to become a part of it all.

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