Rabid fans of “Project Runway” who have followed the show since its inception will certainly enjoy ELEVEN MINUTES, the story of how first season winner Jay McCarroll went on to design and show his first independent line at Fashion Week at Bryant Park two years later. For others, however, the appeal of this small exercise in cinema-verite (directed and produced by Michael Seiditch and Rob Tate) may seem puzzling.
For one thing, McCarroll, a rotund, baby-faced man with a goatee and an endless supply of flamboyant headgear, has charm but is not deeply compelling enough for us to want to follow him for the film’s 103-minute running time. In fact, the first third seems meandering and pointless. However, as one of my viewing companions put it, McCarroll has no subtext—whatever his subtext is, it comes right out of his mouth unedited. “I’m the fucking poster boy for angry insecurity!” he yells at one point in the film, and tells interviewers that his collection inspiration is “vaginal discharge.”
Unlike most conventional documentaries, ELEVEN MINUTES contains no flashbacks and almost no back story, other than the stated fact that after McCarroll won “Project Runway,” in his words, “the cord was cut.” The film stays completely in the present moment from start to finish, during the eight frantic months it takes Jay to design and prepare his fashion show.
Once the actual planning, etc. starts, the film gains momentum, as we watch Jay’s friends (all working for free), and see how truly enormous the creative process behind a show like this is. Unlike reality TV, with its scripted conflict and contrived setbacks, this is reality; where conflict arises from exhaustion, frayed nerves, and no money. The setbacks are genuine (will the shoes arrive in time for the show? Will the factory be able to make the dress he designed that has 140 individual pieces of fabric?). It also exposes the enormous cruelty within the fashion business on every level, from model selection (“she’s old!” Kelly Cutrone says of one candidate) to seat selection for the show. There are the “Front Rows” and behind them, the “Who Gives A Shits.”
McCarroll is caught between worrying about the mass production of his designs, and worrying about how that affects his design aesthetic. (One thing McCarroll must be applauded for: as he says, "No emaciated models! I want one with a boob!" ) The showing of his collection, called “Transport” after his obsession with hot air balloons, is the eleven minutes the film refers to.
The majority of documentaries about creative people are about genius, and extolling that genius (for instance, THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON, although nobody will ever convince me that Johnston is a talented musician). ELEVEN MINUTES, however, is not essentially about the ecology of creativity; it is essentially about the ecology of business. Jay McCarroll knows that his personality/notoriety is a more marketable commodity at this stage than his actual design talent. As he says at the beginning, “I have a short shelf life.” For this niche film, there is definitely an audience in the fashion world. But for the general public, this shelf life might have already passed.
Elisa & Bucky the Wonderdog
Official website: http://www.elevenminutes-jaymccarroll.com/