'Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco': Film Review

More focused on the high life than on the art that enabled it.
9/14/2018

James Crump interviews the '70s scenesters who thought fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez was the epitome of cool.

An artist whose drawings lent fashion magazines of his era something the big-name photographers couldn't provide, Antonio Lopez had the kind of outsize personality on which the fashion world is built. Shifting gears from more highbrow art-world subjects (his last film, Troublemakers, addressed the brainy/brawny Earthworks movement), documentarian James Crump vicariously enjoys the Saint-Tropez rays in Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex Fashion & Disco, a lively but meandering doc that is more seduced by the scene than some viewers might like.

The doc starts with an interviewee who's not its most famous, but is by far its most rewarding: the late New York Times street life photographer Bill Cunningham, who was part of Lopez's circle of friends at the start. Lovable in his enthusiasm and adamant that Lopez was one of the most talented people he knew, Cunningham is onscreen enough here that the doc is almost a micro-sequel to Richard Press' wonderful Bill Cunningham New York.

Cunningham reveals that he once gave Lopez prime real estate, offering up his big apartment above Carnegie Hall so the latter could make it his studio/home. This may foreshadow the monkishness for which the older Cunningham would be famous. But judging from the film, he was the only one denying himself any pleasures of the flesh.

A string of famous models, including some (Jessica Lange, Patti D'Arbanville) who'd become actors, recount the excitement surrounding Lopez — a bisexual flirt who always presented himself with maximum flair. (Photos of his outfits speak so loudly, we almost don't care that Crump has nearly no movie footage of him with sound.) Lopez was more attracted to men than women, we hear, but his entire social circle appears to have been one happy, Edenic round-robin of hedonism. (Cue the requisite "this was before AIDS" disclaimer, foreshadowing the party's sad end.)

Cunningham and others speak of Lopez's art, often focusing on how exciting it was to be around him as he worked: While the artist breathed intensely and stared at his model, others hovered and watched his every movement. We learn that once he had a woman and an outfit, Lopez invented the rest. He'd imagine horses, motorcycles or men to add to the scene, giving magazine editors a fantasy narrative they couldn't have expected. While much of the work we see has aged poorly, it was era-defining in the magazine world, and he's credited with "creating" famous models like Jerry Hall.

Hall, who nearly married Lopez, is not interviewed in the doc, and neither is legendary designer Karl Lagerfeld. Both absences are understandable given the stories we hear, but they're glaring given that these are the two most important people in the narrative's second half. This chunk of the film all but forgets the drawings Lopez was making (and briefly forgets Lopez himself) as it recounts the vacations, parties and excesses of his posse's life after they left New York for Paris. We hear about some delicate political wrangling, as Lopez tried to work for Designer A without alienating Designer B; we get footage of trips to Jamaica and Saint-Tropez. But the doc loses sight of its subject, and is almost over before it acknowledges the disease that would kill him. If a viewer's interest has flagged amid all this luxury, leave it to Bill Cunningham to bring us back, choking up as he angrily remembers those who betrayed Lopez in his final months.

Production company: Summitridge Pictures
Distributor: Film Movement
Director: James Crump
Producers: James Crump, Ronnie Sassoon
Director of photography: Robert O'Haire
Editor: Nick Tamburri

95 minutes