Newsflash: America loves youth, money, and beauty. Every single one of us is affected, whether it’s through mean comments from our peers or the millions of commercials we’re exposed to on a daily basis. Although journalists and academics both cover the fashion industry’s influence on societal norms, we rarely hear from the models themselves. It’s a taboo in the fashion world to really get to the heart of the matter, since eating disorders and drug use almost always come up.
That’s where About Face: Supermodels Then and Now comes in. The models who have seen it all (cocaine, racism, the AIDS epidemic etc.) are far too established to give a damn. They’re all at a very secure place in their careers--if someone decided not to hire one of them, it would be the other person’s loss. Now they have kids, husbands and happiness to worry about instead of losing fifteen pounds to go to Paris.
Although About Face is also clearly beautiful (it’s filled with women who made their fortunes from their looks), it doesn’t actually feel like a movie. Instead it seems like a series of interviews edited together into specific chapters, because that’s what it is. We hear about how each woman entered the field, how it affected her self image, her good times, her bad times and the dreaded aging process. The flow from topic to topic is seamless and engaging.
My personal favorite during the film was Pat Cleveland, although director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders spoke to veritably every major model of the twentieth century. About Face boasts Christie Brinkley, Beverly Johnson, Paulina Porizkova, Isabella Rossellini and Jerry Hall among fifteen other famous models. Designer Calvin Klein and Ford Model founder Eileen Ford, also throw in more than just their two cents.
The film’s strength is that it shows the many sides of modeling. It’s not all about emotional and physical abuse (which is sometimes self-inflicted) or drug addiction. Fashion had the power to introduce a white audience to a different type of black woman--one they didn’t know existed. It normalized African-American faces in our media culture. Modeling gave women a career path and something to work towards.
About Face is a very well-rounded story; it digs deep, yet doesn’t judge anyone’s past. But with so many voices and stories, it’s easy to get lost. Models start to blend together and the viewer can forget what happened to whom. There are about 22 people talking in a movie that lasts about 70 minutes. By the time Carmen Dell'Orefice is closing the movie with her glamourous coat spinning around her, you may be at an information overload.
While the execution may not be perfect, I enjoyed About Face. It was a different spin on a subject that’s practically been beaten to death and was clearly an ambitious project to go through with. Watch the trailer, below, and catch About Face's debut tonight at 9 p.m. on HBO.