As Ryan Murphy churns out series after series as part of his golden handcuffs deal with Netflix, his latest offering Halston is very fitting (so to speak). Review by John Taggart
Halston tells the story of a bold and creative (if controversial) visionary fashion designer who, through hubris and greed, sells his name, identity and brand to mass-manufacture bland mainstream inanities. Apropos indeed.
Halston is Murphy at his most lavish – and his most dull.
Halston: The main players
Ewan McGregor works hard as fashion designer Halston, trying to reclaim the man’s thorough unpleasantness as a tortured soul. But even he can’t overcome the thin script and completely unnecessary re-telling.
At 5 episodes, Halston’s pace is both plodding and rushed. The episodes lag and feel bloated, with similar beats played again and again, cramming in as many Halston-pushes-away-another-sycophant examples as possible.
To be fair, Rebecca Dayan as Tiffany’s jewellery designer Elsa Peretti gives a stand-out performance amongst the repetitive insipidity.
Halston’s real-life friendship with Liza Minnelli is milked for all it’s worth (a passable but forgettable Krysta Rodriguez).
Across the series as a whole, though, we leap through the decades, skimming over any emotional progression in favour of slow, tedious excess.
Sexuality and representation
Halston’s sexuality is a major issue. As a teen, I remember asking my friends ‘do you think I’m a Will or a Jack?’ I honestly thought there were only 2 ways to ‘be gay’ because that was all I’d seen.
Halston begins in 1964 and finishes in 1989, but the dated portrayal of the man goes far beyond the historical setting. He’s the quintessential one-dimensional asexual gay – acerbic and cruel. And we’ve seen it all before.
If Oscar Wilde is the Victorian age gay and Noel Coward the ’40s, McGregor’s Halston is a conception of a ‘’60s era gay’ – cool, sharp, cutting.
Ironically, sex scenes are included, but seeing a naked McGregor rock back and forward against a parade of men does nothing but highlight how incongruous they are with the aged stereotype he is in every other scene.
Showing a white, rich gay icon actually having sex may have been revolutionary 20 years ago. Now it’s just boring.
Late in the series, Halston is blackmailed by a former lover and terrified that the exposure of his sex life will ruin his career. But we’ve seen nothing of that danger previously.
Halston’s decadent lifestyle of exclusive Studio 54 parties, coke, public sex and fresh orchids every day suggest nothing of the real societal risk of being outed.
Compare and Contrast
Compare this with the BBC’s A Very English Scandal from Russell T Davies. Set in the 1970s, a high-profile public figure (politician Jeremy Thorpe), also played by a recognisable actor (Hugh Grant). He is also blackmailed by his former lover (Ben Whishaw).
The danger of exposure for both men permeates every scene.
Thorpe risks his name and career, but as the underdog, his blackmailer faces real danger for his life from the influential Thorpe. It’s a gripping story of a power struggle in another time for gay men.
Contrast with Halston. Like Murphy’s Hollywood, this is a Murphy-esque wet dream nostalgia-fest for big sunglasses and ‘clean lines’.
It’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood with no irony, finesse, or critique. And because there is no real danger to the characters or self-awareness of the pastiche form, Halston fails to explore both that obsession with nostalgia and the brutal realities of the time period itself.
Halston tells of a rich white icon pissing on his privilege
I’ll give Halston this. The production values are incredible. The recreation of the ‘clean lines’ and colours of Halston’s clothing collections are breathtakingly beautiful.
No expense has been spared in the glitter of televising his extravagant world. That’s all it is – glitter. There’s no life story worth telling or hearing here.
Perhaps that’s the point. Halston is as empty and devoid of connection as the subject matter it explores. Why have your own show emulate that vacuousness? Besides, Murphy is hardly known for subtlety, so I doubt Halston’s failure to mean anything of value is intentional.
Pose recovered the queer and trans communities of colour from the forgotten depths of the AIDS crisis. Halston tells of a rich white icon pissing on his privilege as he treats a perfumier like a therapist and sobs into a ruinously expensive perfume bottle.
It’s a big glass of (very) over-priced White Whine from start to finish, dated and boring at best; insensitively tone-deaf at worst.
Halston was an artist, but Halston isn’t art. It’s everything Roy Halston professed to despise. Pretty, bland, unimaginative, unoriginal, and produced for the masses.
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