The world hardly needs a feature documentary to establish that blue jeans are a modern icon. But fashion buffs and pop culture aficionados with a couple of hours to kill could do worse than check in with Blue Gold: American Jeans, an aesthetically uninspired but informative primer on the path this wardrobe staple has taken from the Old West to haute couture.
Narrated by Edward Burns (who reads an awfully full-of-itself script by first-time director Christian D. Bruun and co-writer John Marks), the doc initially promises to zero in on the obsessives who prize antique, made-in-America dungarees, sometimes paying thousands of dollars per pair. We trek predawn to a Pasadena flea market where vintage dealers bring their best; we meet dealer Eric Schrader, a Boise-based entrepreneur who travels the Midwest digging through barns and attics for decaying treasure.
A straightforward mini-history for fashion buffs.
But just as the movie gets really intriguing — introducing “jean hunters” who spelunk in century-old mines to find clothes abandoned by workers, and are rewarded with specimens so rare even the Levi’s official archives don’t have them — it veers off, embarking on a slightly perfunctory history of how jeans got from the miners of the 19th century to postwar bikers to disco-era fashion magnates.
Some points on this timeline are more engaging than others, but the film begins to sound very familiar when it gets to the designer-jean phenomenon of the 1980s. Celebs like Isaac Mizrahi and Marky Ramone add color, but a secondhand anecdote about Iggy Pop’s denim rituals steals this part of the show.
Naturally, we get to Japan, where Americana superfreaks now outdo us at manufacturing high-end jeans and outbid us on the old stuff. Bruun & co. easily demonstrate the cultural significance these ubiquitous pants have acquired over the years. For those of us who simply wonder why new jeans — even by some of the high-end manufacturers celebrated here — develop holes in the crotch more quickly than their 1950s ancestors would even acquire a good fade, the film offers no explanation.
Production company: Blue Gold Productions
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Director/director of photography: Christian D. Bruun
Screenwriters: Christian D. Bruun, John H. Marks
Producers: Christian D. Bruun, Theis Jessen, Mark Romeo
Executive producers: Christine Detlefsen, Rose Ganguzza
Editors: Anders Bramsen, Jason Watkins
Composer: P.T. Walkley