As you begin watching Stacey Stone's 16-minute short film The Man Behind 55,000 Dresses, you immediately start thinking to yourself "Yeah, this is going to be one of those quirky, one-note and instantly forgettable films."
Then, a couple minutes later you're hooked.
The Man Behind 55,000 Dresses is the kind of film that you think is going to be quirky, but instead it's wonderfully complex exploration of one man's complicated life and how he found a way to transcend darkness and celebrate beauty through work, family and, yes, 55,000 dresses.
Brockmann grew up in World War II Germany, living a life marked by deprivation and astounding loss, a youngster unaware of the even starker horrors surrounding his existence with his country's leadership by Hitler. He is a man whose harsh treatment by his parents left scars, especially from words that he's never forgotten. Eventually, he would leave behind Germany for the woman he loved and would start anew in America. He married, started a construction business, raised a family and, in what is truly never explained yet seems strangely obvious, began collecting ballroom gowns because he wanted his wife to always look and feel beautiful whenever they went out.
The dresses? They would eventually number 55,000 and, yes, it seems almost unfathomable that no one in his family ever realized that he had accumulated that many dresses. Brockmann, in fact, holds the Guinness World Record for Largest Collection of Clothing Labels. Much of the film takes place as Brockmann is in the process of selling the collection through public & private means.
Beautifully photographed by Art Simon with images that are warm and comforting, The Man Behind 55,000 Dresses works wonderfully largely on the strength of its deeply authentic human characters and the sensitive, intelligent direction of Stacey Stone that never allows the story's factor to overwhelm the richness of its humanity.
The Man Behind 55,000 Dresses is, first and foremost, a story of survival and of celebration, yet it's also this magnificent story of a husband and a father who became determined to find a way to make sure beauty would always remain in the lives of those he loved. A man of few words whose family, at least in some ways, feels disconnected, Paul Brockmann seems to have spent his entire life trying to keep his eye on the beautiful and to find ways to express love for his family whether they would ever realize it or not.
Director Stacey Stone, who has a long history of documenting social justice work, has clearly tapped into the story's deeper meaning and has managed to create both simplicity and complexity within the span of an entertaining and thought-provoking 16-minutes. She captures Brockmann's pain, yet honors his life by vividly bringing to life how work, imagination, commitment, and passion have allowed him to thrive. Roy Shakked, whose music has been heard all over the place, created the film's wonderfully integrated original music.
As I was perusing the film's credits, I was stuck by the level of both expertise and commitment to justice and serving others evident within the film's production team. While this may not even be a fact worth mentioning for some, it perhaps gives a tremendous glimpse into how Stone remained committed, much like Brockmann, to finding the beauty and sharing it with the world.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic