Gianni Versace: Vogue On, and The Assassination of- Drew Rowsome - Moving Pictures - MyGayToronto

Gianni Versace: Vogue On, and The Assassination of

REVIEW by Drew Rowsome

14 February 2018

Four episodes in, extenuating circumstances have made American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace difficult to watch. There is no doubt that it is riveting and glorious television made by artists at the top of their craft, filled with soaring operatic flourishes and telling details, but it is also hitting too close to home. A fictional recreation of an actual horrific event unspooling while we are in the midst of the revelation, suspected but still shocking, that a serial killer has been operating in our midst, feels like some sort of post-modern meta-zeitgeist horror.

While the name Gianni Versace is familiar to every gay man and fashionista (the two don't always overlap despite popular opinion), his existence was far enough removed from my existence that I read and watched the coverage of his murder with more fascination than fear or anger. I do own a secondhand copy of the infamous Versace book Men Without Ties but it is softcore porn disguised as fashion. And the book did nothing to contradict my basic assumption that Versace's wares were situated somewhere between garish and camp.  . And were totally out of my price range in any case. It was only years later when I visited The Versace Mansion in Miami, and felt the ghosts on the stairs where Versace died, and discovered how so much garishness and camp could be meshed together to create something spectacular.

The first two episodes of The Assassination of Gianni Versace do a great job of filling in the backstory and delving into the mind of Versace. Edgar Ramirez plays the designer with an exuberance and despair that causes real pain when it is snuffed out. Penelope Cruz is Dynasty-delicious as a version of Donatella Versace that we have all hoped is the truth. There is even a far too short appearance by Cathy Moriarty who we have seen far too little of since she scorched the screen in Raging Bull. And hopefully we will see more of Jay R Ferguson's FBI/DILF agent. It is very much a Ryan Murphy production: teasing, gory, melodramatic and diva-packed.

Ricky Martin is beautifully sexy and sexual as Versace's partner Antonio D'Amico and it is exhilarating to see a gay couple that are portrayed with a sex life. A sex life that is not toned-down or monogamized for the mainstream. However Martin has been given little to do dramatically so far other than suffer and sob because the series shifts focus for the next two episodes.

The Assassination of Gianni Versace
 then moves backwards through time to track the previous killings by Andrew Cunanan. While still stylish in the extreme, there is a gruesome voyeuristic quality that is very disturbing. The third episode features an Emmy-bait turn by Judith Light that is extraordinary but the focus is on Darren Criss's Andrew Cunanan. From the first two episodes we have learned that Cunanan is a wannabe, taking the common gay stereotype and reality of exaggeration of social status and starfucking, to an extreme. And when his lies come undone, he becomes a killer, his delusions will not be denied. 

Criss gives a chilling performance only partially offset by his good looks and charm. The duality, as it may have worked with Cunanan, reaches its apogee with the murders that have all the trapping of sexuality but none of the passion. The third episode is brilliant but difficult to watch, the fourth I almost turned off, there were too many distracting echoes amplifying the horror. Not only did Criss's stint in Glee recall the tragedies of Mark Salling and Cory Monteith, but the brutal murder of Cunanan's friends/exes and the BDSM games were just too close to current events.

Previously I would never have imagined that Criss dancing in a tiny pink speedo would be anything but tantalizing, here it creates a disturbing combination of revulsion and the erotic. A potent and nervy feat of filmmaking and I wish I were detached enough to have been able to appreciate. Criss is very good and obviously has far more potential than I imagined from his fall from grace in Hairspray Live! (though I, alas, didn't see his Broadway Hedwig which earned raves). He even sells the Murphy-patented symbolism that is so blatant it hurts: screaming into the ocean, cleansing showers, a bathtub splashed with blood.

There is a welcome thematic thread that blames the closet, of both the gay and HIV forms, for the killing spree that culminated in Versace's murder. It is heartening to see that concept as a dominant theme instead of a buried subtext. Max Greenfield, unrecognizable, plays one of the first survivors of the AIDS epidemic and his discussions with Criss's Cunanan (especially when contrasted with what The Assassination of Gianni Versace alleges was Versace covering up his own sero-conversion, the official story is that he disappeared for a season to deal with ear cancer) are far more nuanced and realistic to be expected from a mainstream television series. 

Struggling to process what I have seen of The Assassination of Gianni Versace so far, I picked up a review copy of Vogue On Gianni Versace that I had been sent and just not been able to get to yet. I've always had a hard time with fashion writing, the fab magazine "Style" column was the most difficult thing I've ever had to edit due to my cluelessness of the basics of style let alone analyzing it. I had only perused fashion magazines and Vogue for the photos and ads. I hoped that a bit of background on Versace, beyond his murder and pages of pretty frocks, might restore some balance. I never really expected to more than skim the text.

Author Charlotte Sinclair (who also wrote the Christian Dior book in the extensive Vogue On series) had a surprise in store. Quoting liberally from, and referencing, previous Vogue articles on Versace, Sinclair not only contextualizes why Versace's designs are important, but also tracks his business success. It delves only superficially into his personal life and history but those mentions resonate after all the post-murder press and particularly after what has been shown so far of The Assassination of Gianni Versace.  She only touches on what she sees as a connection between Versace's famous bondage/leather innovations and his fate, but that is all it takes and it is tenuous and rather insulting theory in any case.

Sinclair credits Versace with creating the phenomenons of the supermodel and the superstar as model, and explains the significance of Criss' s aggrandizing remark that Versace created his own fabrics when he couldn't find what he wanted. She compiles enough details of Versace's early life to make a compelling narrative and creates folklore out of gossip. I never thought that I would understand how a "drape" works or why excess and glitter can have depth beyond drag and camp, but Sinclair renders it clearly, efficiently and in a highly readable style.

Vogue On Gianni Versace impresses me all the more so for all the phone calls, emails, pursing line by line and compromise that it took to translate columnist Max MacDonald's sartorial insight and enthusiasms into what I considered to be compelling but understandable prose. In that sense fashion is like writing and like a television program: the style and surface are crucial, are what catches the eye and pleases, but it is delving into the depths beneath that makes it art. And I'll continue with The Assassination of Gianni Versace, it may be disturbing and flashy but then so is the best art. 

The Assassination of Gianni Versace airs the FX network