Valentino: The Last Emperor (PG-13) (96 min.) — As a T-shirt and jeans kind of guy, I'm not the best authority on high fashion, or low fashion for that matter. But stories about aging cowboys on their last roundups always get me. That's what I pull from Matt Tyrnauer's documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor; a swan song for style, led by a designer sticking to his guns, so to speak.
Valentino, who made single name IDs fashionable, has clothed first ladies, movie stars and heads of state for five decades, with an imperious sense of exclusively hand-sewn taste. But as the movie begins, he's troubled by the impending takeover of his empire by corporate types preferring mass production and branding Valentino's reputation. It's the death of the Old West, Milan style.
Meanwhile, Valentino suffers planning for a lavish exit from the limelight, a 45th anniversary tribute lasting three days in Rome. For all of his debonair ego, this also bothers the designer but it's important to his longtime personal and business partner, Giancarlo Giammetti. Tyrnauer's imposing cameras — Valentino gets irked more than once — reveal much about this mutually beneficial relationship. They're Butch and Sundance, watching each other's backs while surrounded by the future.
Valentino: The Last Emperor is a fascinating peek inside an industry that has never played well onscreen. The movies seem too vulgar to convey such class. Tyrnauer, an editor for Vanity Fair, fares better because Valentino the man makes his movie, not the clothes. The climactic shows in Rome feature the obligatory celebrities and pompous circumstance but never overshadow their creator.
Tyrnauer will accompany his film this weekend at Tampa Theatre, beginning Friday with a 6 p.m. reception, fashion show and screening followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker. Tickets are $20. Tyrnauer also will speak after each of Saturday's showings (1:30, 3:30 and 7:30 p.m.). B
Steve Persall, Times film critic