Picture Me: A Model’s Diary (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
Sara Ziff and Ole Schell’s documentary focused on Ziff’s journey as a fashion model from when she was eighteen years old on her first flight to Paris until she was twenty-three with prospects of attending Columbia University. Sara didn’t plan on becoming a model. Her parents valued education and she thought she was eventually going to follow their footsteps. But when she was approached by a photographer on the street and asked if she was a model, her life changed. Before she knew it, she was traveling all over the globe and getting paid $80,000 per job. But was the money worth losing her health and sanity? “Picture Me: A Model’s Diary” is the kind of film I would recommend to anyone thinking of entering the fashion industry. While it did acknowledge that being a model did have its perks like having a healthy salary (assuming the model eventually becomes an “it” girl which is a rarity), it was more concerned about showing us the ugly side of modeling and what magazines and television channels dedicated to fashion purposefully hide from us. By interviewing actual models, allowing their faces to be shown, and sharing their painful experiences with sexual harassment, the film successfully highlighted the exploitation inherent to the business. It also tackled issues like eating disorder and body image, drugs as a tool for a model to have the energy to keep going from one show to another, and modeling agencies hiring girls as young as fourteen years old but ultimately failing to protect them from elements that no young person should be exposed to. The latter was of special interest because the fashion industry loves to use very skinny and tall girls with no breasts and no hips because the dress just hangs on the body. But is it morally right to put such young girls in fashion shows where they were expected to get naked backstage in which photographers were free to take pictures and watch them undress? How is that different from watching child pornography? I admired the film because it wasn’t afraid to ask difficult questions. Furthermore, the documentary surprised me when it acknowledged how Ziff’s salary affected her relationship with her boyfriend (Schell) and her family’s opinion of her earning more money than them. On one hand, Schell was proud of Sara and said things like, “I’ve never held so much money in my hand!” On the flipside, there certainly was jealousy there. On their trip to Las Vegas, Sara asked her boyfriend why he never paid for her. He claimed that he did. Sara was reluctant to discuss it further because the camera was on. It was real and it felt incredibly awkward to watch. I do have favorite fashion models. I follow them on Twitter and read their blogs. With all their traveling, photoshoots, and runway work, it’s easy to admire them. But then there are moments when a model would Tweet about being so exhausted and not having eaten for almost twenty-four hours other than some candy or a piece of bread and a cup of coffee. Then I’m reminded of the models, both male and female, who decided to take their own lives. Maybe “being pretty and on time” is not the only requirement in becoming a model.
★★ / ★★★★
A syndicate of fashion designers assigned Mugatu (Will Ferrell), a fellow successful fashion designer, to find an extremely dim-witted male model and brainwash him to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia, the man who would be responsible for passing laws against child labor. Mugatu thought Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) was perfect for the job. Zoolander was blessed with great bone structure but he lacked brain power. The poor man-child couldn’t even spell the word “day” (he spelled it “d-a-i-y-e”). Written and directed by Ben Stiller, “Zoolander” was an effective spoof of the fashion industry when its humor wasn’t all over the place. Strangely enough, it had a one-dimensional main character but it worked because he was supposed to be unaware about everything that was happening around him. Much of the film played upon the stereotype about models being dumb and self-centered. For instance, Zoolander claimed he wanted to find meaning in life so he decided that he would establish a center for kids who wished to learn. However, Zoolander didn’t know the first thing about charity or education. His hypocrisy was wild but still amusing to watch because we knew he meant well. There were two scenes that were downright hilarious. The first was Zoolander’s reaction to Mugatu’s model for the children’s center. The man-child was at the forefront; it was as if he had no concept of representation, something that children normally learn during an early age. The other was the walk-off between Zoolander and his blonde rival named Hansel (Owen Wilson). It was cheesy, ridiculous and completely unnecessary, but I couldn’t help but smile because the lead actors and the spectators were obviously having fun. I could just imagine how many takes it must have taken the actors to complete a scene as they struggled to keep a straight face throughout the farce. I do wish, however, that there were more models that were featured. Milla Jovovich was great as Mugatu’s villainous assistant with an edgy haircut and Tyson Beckford milked every second he was given during the walk-off. I wouldn’t have minded crazy Tyra Banks appearing out of the blue and lecturing how important it was to “smize” (smiling with your eyes). There were also some surprising appearances from a young (and barely recognizable) Alexander Skarsgård and David Duchovny, an expert in delivering lines in a monotonous voice but still keeping us interested. “Zoolander” lacked in story and character development but it had memorable lines and manic energy which helped the picture stay afloat. It’s one of those movies I won’t watch for a long time but when I do see it playing on cable while flipping through the channels, I couldn’t help but sit down and enjoy the ride.
Eleven Minutes (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
This documentary, directed by Michael Selditch and Robert Tate, was about Jay McCarroll, the winner of the first season of the internationally successful “Project Runway,” and how he and his crew (working with him for free) put together all the elements to make a fashion show. The fashion industry being a cutthroat world, the question was whether he would succeed or fade into obscurity. I have never seen an episode of “Project Runway” so I didn’t know who Jay McCarroll was. I decided to see this film because, even though I’m more interested in male and female models, I wanted to learn more about the behind-the-scenes elements and what it took to create such amazing clothes come fashion week. I must say that this picture did not disappoint because I felt like it really immensed itself in the many levels of frustration involving things like the right products not being ordered, working with difficult fabrics, people stressing out because nothing seemed to be going right, people flaking out, determining what was sellable and what wasn’t and a whole lot more. I think if I were put into their world, I would have no idea what to do or how to even start. Granted, I don’t have the amount of experience that they have but even if I did, I still think it would be a very daunting task to put together a fashion show, especially if it’s a designer’s first “official” collection. But I liked that the movie was also about McCarroll’s struggle to step out of the shadow of the show that put him on the radar. Even though McCarroll projected this huge, scandalous personality, there were moments when it was easy to see the panic in his eyes and the questioning whether he and his team would be able to pull through. The film was very dramatic and I loved it because it put me in the edge of my seat. Basically, this movie was eye candy for me because I loved clothes. I really wanted those pants with the hot air balloon designs and the huge alien sunglasses. I had a sneaky feeling that I could rock those walking down the streets. If one is interested in fashion but has not seen the show, I don’t think it would be a problem because the documentary’s goal was to show that McCarroll and “Project Runway” were two completely different camps (even though he clearly showed his appreciation toward the television show). I certainly learned a lot more than I thought I would such as the length of time to put together a collection, the importance of business knowledge in the fashion industry, dealing with the unknown elements and just rolling with the punches.
America the Beautiful (2007)
★★ / ★★★★
I was reluctant with giving this documentary a mediocre rating because I did enjoy watching it. However, as a movie that tried to explore the issue about the American society’s standard for beauty, I felt that the arguments were all over the place and sometimes contradicted itself. Written and directed by Darryl Roberts, he mostly targeted the fashion industry, its unrealistic expectations when it comes to its models and the messages that they knowingly impart on people, especially children, on what is considered beautiful. For me, one of its biggest flaws was that it failed to admit to itself that the fashion industry is, in fact, a business and a good one at that. When it makes the argument that the industry treats its models like nobodies, that’s not anything new or insightful (at least for me because I’m familiar with fashion to an extent) because the models work FOR the fashionistas and they ARE products that needed to be as glamorous as possible so that money would be made at the end of the day. Placing most of the blame on the fashion industry is a bad move because there are other types of media out there that are arguably more influential (like music artists and music videos). The movie also tackled what was shown on television and magazines. Now, I think it did a pretty good job showing younger people perusing through magazines and pointing out the media’s unrealistic expectations on how to have the “right” look. However, I thought the film became evasive once again because it didn’t really explore or even mention personal responsibilities. An interviewee made a good point about the act of choosing to open up a magazine but it was as if as though Roberts had already put the interviewee under a negative light so what the interviewee said was pretty much thrown away the minute she stopped talking. I was very alarmed by this because when Eve Ensler (“The Vagina Monologues”), from the opposite spectrum, was being interviewed about the media and its effect in society, I got the feeling that the director wanted us to listen to her and really think about was she was saying. Granted, what she said about the media’s subtle ways of influencing people was indeed quite smart. However, my point is that the documentarian was obviously biased. I would have given this movie a less forgiving review if it wasn’t for Gerren Taylor’s journey from being a frontrunner to becoming the next supermodel to “just another model” who can no longer get booked (especially in Paris) because she was “too fat.” Personally, I think she’s thin. You don’t have to major in Biology to be able to tell that a girl who is six feet tall and has a waist of 96 centimeters is skinny. (The agencies wanted her to be at most around 90 centimeters.) This documentary had its ups and downs but I’m giving it a mild recommendation because either way, one will have a strong opinion about it when it’s over.
The September Issue (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
Anna Wintour, the extremely influential editor of Vogue magazine, stated it perfectly in the very first few minutes of this documentary: Most people are scared of fashion and that’s probably why they make fun of it. Personally, I don’t think fashion is a ridiculous subject at all because it covers every aspect of beauty–something that is very important to me–not just when it comes to the clothes but the attitude that comes with them. Directed by R.J. Cutler, he documented all the hardwork, the conflict, the stress and the funny moments of what it took to release the September issue of Vogue. Two people are at the forefront: Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington, the editor and the creative director, respectively. I love that the movie covers the history of the two so we get some sort of idea where they came from and what it took for them to be where they are now. Although Wintour and Coddington have very different personalities, both of them are aware with how brilliant the other person is. Instead of competing with each other, they constantly push each other to be more critical and to continue to redefine beauty. While Wintour is truly a very intimidating ice queen, she’s not a total diva like how fashion editors were presented in motion pictures. She has her more tender moments, especially when she spends time with her daughter. On the other hand, I found Coddington to be very admirable because she’s not afraid to push for what she wants to be included in the magazine even if Wintour says “No” to her ideas time and time again. She’s a romantic and she remains to be a sweet individual despite the harsh realities of the fashion industry. While the two giants do have their disagreements, they share one crucial bond: They are very passionate with what they do and they want the magazine to be at its best. I was so engaged with this movie because there were times when I agreed with Wintour and there were times when I agreed with Coddington. I found it fun to see which photos would make it to the magazines, which was really hard at the same time because the photographs were stunning. This documentary is obviously targeted for people who are interested in fashion. However, for those who could care less about fashion should see this as well because it will undoubtedly show them that fashion is not a joke (though sometimes it can be). Like other more traditional jobs, it requires a lot of long hours, heartbreaking rejections, stress due to everything not going according to plan, and best of all, a thick skin.
Valentino: The Last Emperor (2008)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Over the years I’ve grown to love the fashion industry so watching this documentary about the legendary Valentino Garavani was a real treat. I was fascinated with watching him handle situations when people did not quite reach his vision. That frustration sometimes ended up in heated arguments and sometimes they ended up with a joke or a simple snide remark. The passion Valentino had about fashion sometimes took its toll with the people around him, especially his long-time business partner and lover Giancarlo Giametti, but if it weren’t for his persistence and perfectionist nature, his creations would not have been the same. I liked that Matt Tyrnauer, the director, took some of the picture’s time to go back into the past and tell his audiences where Valentino came from and how he met some of the most influential people in his life. I was so engaged when the legendary designer talked about the many inspirations he had from films and movie stars when he was around thirteen years old. And when asked by a reporter if he dreamed about being anything else other than designing for women’s clothing, there was something brilliant and amusing with the way he said his one-word answer. I’m glad that this documentary didn’t quite focus on all of Valentino’s accomplishments (although I wouldn’t mind watching that documentary if one decided to take on the project). The majority of it was about his final couture show, which was beyond extravagant, and the media’s ever-annoying questions on when he would finally retire. I’ve seen a few runways and shows but nothing comes close to the elegance of his models, the ravishing sets, and the inspired clothings. Every image of the film looked like candy I wanted to touch and relish. “Valentino: The Last Emperor” would most likely not reach the mainstream because it’s geared more toward fashionistas. However, if one is generally interested in beauty, or even better, the passion and effort to make something beyond exquisite and divine, this is definitely the one to see.