BOOTLEG FILES 730: “Bob Hope on the Road to China” (1979 television special).
LAST SEEN: On YouTube in a truncated form.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Out of circulation for many years.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not likely.
On January 1, 1979, President Jimmy Carter established U.S. diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. Two months later, the longtime rivals established embassies in each other’s capitals. Remarkably, the two countries retained their diplomatic ties despite NBCs ‘s broadcast of the astonishingly atrocious “Bob Hope on the Road to China” in September that year.
Forget about the “Ghostbuster” broads – the funniest woman on screen today is Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor-in-chief, who steals the show in Andrew Rossi’s documentary on the creation of the 2015 “China: Through the Looking Glass” exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Okay, Wintour is not trying to be funny in this film. In fact, she gives the impression that she has no sense of humor. But the woman’s overwhelming sense of self-importance, the exaggerated majesty that she receives – she travels with a small army of sycophantic babes and mincing queers, and her every word is absorbed with near-religious mania – and her impatience at anyone that fails to achieve her goal of glamour can inspire laughs for those with a delightfully cruel sense of humor. And, of course, there is her style: a clunky helmet of a hair, sunglasses that are two sizes too big and a garish wardrobe that would have embarrassed Phyllis Diller. For someone who is supposed to be an infallible expert on what’s chic, the real-life Wintour is more hilarious than the make-believe Wintour played by Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada.” (And, yes, some clueless reporter asks Wintour about that vehicle – her attempt to conceal contempt while offering a well-rehearsed diplomatic response is priceless.)
As for the rest of the film – well, let’s just say that it offers a none-too-flattering view of the cultural insensitivity and burdensome vanity that goes into simultaneously mounting an exhibit on Chinese-inspired Western fashions while setting up the museum’s annual Met Gala that is chaired by Wintour. (That is the event where starlets and singers vamp the red carpet while wearing outlandish gowns for the benefit of celebrity tabloids.) For people that may believe museum administrators are sophisticated and erudite, this grueling and lethargically paced portrait of ego, flattery and jittery planning skills will be quite an eye-opener – provided you don’t fall asleep during the film’s Wintour-less moments.