The 2012 LA Film Fest may be over, but our guest bloggers aren’t done talking about all the movies they’ve seen! This post is from guest blogger Pamela Ezell, who brings her observations to the doc About Face, which screened at the 2012 LA Film Fest.

Carmen Dell’Orifice, the world’s oldest working model, talks aging, plastic surgery and more in About Face

“Is plastic surgery the new feet binding? Is it misogyny?” So asks Isabella Rossellini in About Face, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ new HBO documentary, a film that tackles these and other troubling topics as some of fashions’ most famous faces talk with candor and ambivalence about the glamorous but not always pretty world of modeling. Racism, ageism and the struggle to be taken seriously are all on the agenda.

About Face is a retrospective of top models from the ‘40s through the present day. Some have gone into other careers, like acting (Rossellini, Christie Brinkley), or are entrepreneurs (Beverly Johnson), or have retired (Lisa Taylor, and for awhile, Karen Bjornson). Some are still working, like Carmen Dell’Orefice, who at 80 is reportedly the oldest working model. Unlike the fashion business, which takes a pretty solid beating for its continuing lack of diversity, the film includes the experiences and opinions of a variety of models—although none who might fall into either the plus-sized or even the “over size 6” categories where most American women find themselves.

Regardless of their current age or occupation, the pictures of models in their heyday are undeniably beautiful. What’s refreshing to see is how beautiful they still are, in their 40s, 50s and well beyond. Some are blessed with good skin and great bone structure, and some are using all the “technology” (Rossellini’s word) to maintain a certain look. As Dell’Orefice puts it, “If you had the ceiling falling down in your living room, would you not repair it?” There’s no definitive answer to that question, and audience members who choose to can spend their time asking themselves who has and hasn’t had a little—or even a lot of—technology.

At its core, this film is a love letter to the models, designers and photographers whose work set the style standards for decades. The artistry of Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Helmut Newton, Halston, Calvin Klein—who appears in a rare interview—are all recognized.

But modeling is not just art, it’s business—and it’s a tough business for young women. “What you call sexual harassment, we called compliments,” says Paulina Porizkova, who also says that making a living based on her looks actually undermined her self-confidence. She and Carol Alt tell poignant stories of being picked apart and criticized for every aspect of their appearance while standing in the room.

There are opportunities that come from success: the international travel; the chance to work with highly creative, free spirits and be well paid for it; the independence of earning a living at an often young age. But there are also many examples in the film of what Lisa Taylor experienced, “the ugly side of modeling”: the drugs, the incredibly short careers (two or three years, in some cases), the girls who get lost along the way.

The film depicts what may turn out to be the golden age of the Cover Girl. Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, who started out as a filmmaker at AFI and inadvertently tumbled into a career as a photographer after an impromptu lighting tutorial from visiting director Alfred Hitchcock, is a master at getting his subjects to open up and feel comfortable, providing these women with a chance to speak for themselves about our culture’s obsession with beauty and youth.

—by Pamela Ezell for Film Independent

Watch director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and model Beverly Johnson at the screening, and catch About Face on HBO July 30:


June 28th, 2012 • No Comments

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