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Wellspring presents
Fashion Victim: The Killing of Gianni Versace (2000)

"We all want to worship something. People worship fashion magazines. They don't worship Newsweek and Time."
- Joan Juliet Buck, an editor at Vogue

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: June 26, 2002

Stars: Gianni Versace, Donatella Versace, Joan Juliet Buck, Malcolm McLaren, Antonio D'Amico, Maureen Orth
Other Stars: Larry King, Peter Cunanan, Andrew Cunanan, Anita Gallo, Mario Testino, Marisa Berenson
Director: James Kent

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for violence, language, drug use, adult content
Run Time: 01h:16m:40s
Release Date: May 21, 2002
UPC: 720917316024
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

As any self-respecting tabloid reader or television watcher knows, fantastically successful Italian designer Gianni Versace was shot and killed at his Miami home on July 15, 1997, in an especially brutal murder perpetrated by one Andrew Cunanan; a manhunt for the killer climaxed days later with Cunanan's suicide. This documentary, a look at the worlds of both the slayer and his victim, was originally produced for Cinemax, and while it never completely breaks out of its lurid, tawdry world of murder, it does offer some keen glimpses inside the universe of high fashion, and at those peering in from the outside, so desperate to get in.

Versace's rise from a working-class Southern Italian family is documented, as he goes on to become the bad boy of fashion, we're told—he more than anyone is responsible for the shaking up of such staid places as the houses of Givenchy and Chanel, in their efforts to keep up with the competition (i.e., Versace). But as this is the world of fashion, everything is fabulous, and there's no shortage of superlatives. For instance, Anita Gallo, who "discovered" Versace for America, describes the late designer in this manner: "You have Michelangelo, Vermeer, Matisse, Braque, Picasso, Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Sir Elton, and then there's Gianni." (I'm suspicious not merely because Versace is the only fashion designer on that list, but also because I wonder about the equation of something like Les Demoiselles d'Avignon with Bennie and the Jets.)

Aside from being an accomplished designer—perhaps more important, even—Versace was his own best publicist, and he sure knew how to put on a show. Hence his $70 million annual budget for personal publicity, which ensured that Kate, Naomi, Claudia and Christy were all on the runway at the latest Versace showing, and that the audience was peppered with the likes of Madonna, Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley, Steven Spielberg, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Lopez. The documentary spends a good amount of time with Antonio D'Amico, Versace's boyfriend of fifteen years, and suggests a vicious competition after the murder for Versace's legacy between D'Amico and Donatella, the designer's sister. (Blood won out, as Donatella took over the house of Versace and D'Amico was escorted out.) Versace's parties were grand, his homes were decorated like a studio soundstage, and he came to believe the illusions—he designed not just clothes, but a life for himself, and got rich encouraging others to imitate it. He appointed himself the ambassador to taste for the nouveau riche, and according to the documentary, went to sleep dreaming of stock options.

Versace's world may seem a little gaudy and overdone, but of course the most nauseating aspects of this documentary have to do with Cunanan. He's the ultimate wannabe, who pored over fashion magazines like a religious zealot, and aside from obviously being unstable, was apparently keenly aware that the years were ticking away—he's portrayed as an aging, chubby, discarded boy toy on a homicidal rampage. We're favored with interviews with Cunanan's friends, his forays into "the leather community," and most nauseatingly of all with his father. Peter Cunanan seems like the shadiest of characters—he's a stockbroker who was drummed out of the business—who insists, among other things, that his son was not gay, and that Andrew was a patsy for Versace's real killers. (Hey, maybe this guy can team up with O.J.) He's back in his native Philippines now, trying to peddle the movie rights to Andrew's story.

And the tale of the manhunt for Cunanan does not inspire confidence in law enforcement—it went on for eight days, as Cunanan relished the image of himself splattered all over the news. As one of the participants observes, "This was the largest manhunt in the history of the United States. It was a complete debacle. Gianni Versace did not need to die." The horrible facts of Versace's demise occupy the most time here, but the best things about this documentary are the incidental ones, like footage of the designer browbeating models just before what would be his last show, or the surreal scene of his funeral, a full-scale production with Princess Diana as its leading lady.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Image quality is no better than adequate; aside from the news footage, the newly recorded interviews vary in quality, though it seems that the higher up the fashion food chain you are, the better you were shot; editors and designers generally look fine, but those who knew Cunanan are shot from an unflattering high angle.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Some hiss can be heard on the soundtrack, and the narration (by Marisa Berenson) occasionally lacks clarity. Otherwise, things sound fine.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 11 cues and remote access
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. weblink to Wellspring Media
Extras Review: No extras on hand, though the image on the disc, of the bloody steps where Versace was murdered, is a pretty gruesome one.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

The murder of Gianni Versace was a horrible, stomach-turning crime, and while this documentary doesn't shed a tremendous amount of new light on the circumstances, it's a fairly interesting study of a top haute couture designer and his world, and of the crazed and desperate young man who made his mark by killing him.


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