The title of “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s” reveals one shopper’s longing for eternity, but the first talking head, Joan Rivers, in a brief moment of honesty, speaks for many when she says, “People who take fashion seriously are idiots.” “Scatter My Ashes” is one of those documentaries that must be criticized as a film, not a culture.
But, oh!, it’s hard. You have to care about fashion, you have to be that idiot Rivers refers to even to the point of rationalizing that the industry provides jobs, to care about Bergdorf’s and, thus, to care about the film. You have to care about New York City (translation: Manhattan) in a way that most Midwesterners do not, and you have to care about money, the getting for the spending. You have to care about capitalism, price points, commerce and wild wealth to sit through the film. Really care about them.
If you do, you might find “Scatter My Ashes” interesting. It’s certainly revealing, but not on every level. You learn very little about the Bergdorf-Goodman families who found it, and you learn a little less about the building, which covers an entire block of Manhattan real estate, with the s of “estate” symbolized by a dollar sign. What you learn about is what famous shoppers think about the Bergdorf experience. They would include Miss Rivers, Susan Lucci, Candice Bergen and Nicole Richie, with an anecdote about Yoko Ono and John Lennon buying so many furs one Christmas that the store, in the doldrums, made its nut for the year on that transaction alone.
You also learn about the designers -- Lagerfeld, Mizrahi, , the Olsens, Wu, and Wang -- and their experiences when finally chosen to have a altar within the cathedral of commerce. But don’t get greedy: the Bergdorf people want exclusivity.
But, mostly, what you learn about is window design. David Hoey, the window installation artist, is seen in various studios with lots of artists putting doing the scut work around the Christmas display entitled “Carnival of Animals” as the installers count down from August to Black Friday.
You also learn about other engines that drive Bergdorf’s, like Linda Fargo and Candy Pratts and the inimitable personal shopper Elaine Mack -- such a mouth on her!
Documentarian Matthew Miele broke the film into chapters such as “The Windows” and “The Women.” It is social history, but it is not top of the line in documentaries.