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This documentary takes you into the hectic, and not always glamorous look at the life of a model. With the excitement comes a huge amount of stress and exhaustion. Ole Schell and Sara Ziff, with the help of many others, showed all sides of this lifestyle. From the early morning calls, to the many deadlines, to the huge amount of time spent on planes, and the large sum on the checks, all the way to the meltdowns from sheer tiredness and pressure, I learned quite a bit more than I knew before. I feel more enriched for having seen it. I do recommend it highly for those interested in becoming a model, and for those just curious like myself.
When you think of models, you think of incredibly beautiful specimens
of the human species sashaying down catwalks, gracing fashion events,
being that perfect clotheshorse for fashion designers to drape their
latest collection on, and being plastered on everything from glossy
magazines to billboards. The nastier side of us will tend to pass snide
remarks on their lack of brains as we become jealous of their looks,
their fat paychecks for doing what seems to be simple (like how
director and documentary subject Sara Ziff puts it, how difficult can
it be walking down a runway that is straight?), and living the
lifestyles that seem to be on a different stratosphere altogether.
Enter Sara Ziff, a successful fashion model and her documentary film Picture Me, which takes an autobiographical charting of her career, as well as that of her peers, inviting candid interviews done on camera as shot by her then boyfriend Ole Schell, given that expose of the industry from within, covering a wide spectrum from the time a potential model is talent scouted on the streets at a tender age, to living the life jetsetting the fashion capitals of the world week in and week out. Key to her treatment in this documentary is the portrayal of models as normal human beings rather than robots or dolls that as puppets are manipulated by almost everyone vertically in the industry, from agents right down to the makeup artists and fashion show directors.
Yes the first act sets up the unreal, fantasy world that the models live in, with their impossibly fat pay cheque in the 5-6 figure range for work that involves shooting or casting or runway walking, things that we deem are simple enough, but Ziff's documentary captures that with high income comes the inevitable high tastes, and one tends to lose that sense of reality, never mind if what seems to be a high cost of living getting charged back as debt to the models when they first start out, from the limo and the chauffeur to the rental of that swanky shared apartment. Family and friends get to express on camera how they feel about such money going around in the industry as norm, probably amounts that you and I take a lifetime to make, these models do so in a day.
That just about alienates the average us from them, though Ziff never allows us to forget that they too have simple hopes and dreams they want to live out. The documentary's never apologetic, yet didn't manage to probe deep enough into the issues raised, especially those involving the sleazier aspects of the sexploitation and drugs, choosing instead to allow peers to fleetingly talk about them in very general terms without naming names (lest a lawsuit come flying or an industry-wide black list getting imposed). Naturally one cannot expect that she burn bridges with an industry that has brought her fame and fortune, though it is good to note that Ziff herself has been advocating unionizing the models to set up protection for fellow professionals, especially the fresh-faced ones, from the unscrupulous.
Much of the clips here involve hand-held cameras following Sara Ziff from place to place, even into fashion show backstages where we get candid interviews from industry players. Famous names in the industry though are not covered over here, so top fashion houses and designers get mentioned by the bucketload in name only. What I enjoyed most about the film is how it captured the highs and lows equally, with the lows especially highlighting how the industry has continued to shift its tendency to recruit younger these days, and provides that theirs is a profession that is constantly under threat all the time by new entrants who are probably taller, prettier and fresher looking that those already in the scene, eager and hungrier to prove themselves, and hence puts them into harms way.
Through the following of Ziff's developing career, one gets a feel of the superficialness of the industry, where you're only as good as your previous work, and the grueling, punishing schedule that they live their lives in, and what I thought was an automatic weight loss program for the constant lack of sleep, pressure and literally being on your toes almost all the time in those unbelievable heels, as well as to fend off unwanted attention from sleaze bags. For those looking to understand the industry a fair bit better, then perhaps Picture Me will be that recommended film to catch.
I have seen many a fashion doc: September Issue, Valentino: The Last Emperor, Seamless, Scrath the Surface...and Picture me is by far the best. In addition to getting amazing backstage access (Most of the footage behind the scenes are filmed by the films protagonist, Sara Ziff, and her comrade/friend Caitriona Balfe...) it also boasts very honest assessments of the industry by actual top models. The narrative is set up to give you a lay of the land as to what it is to be a top model. The term "supermodel" is a misnomer given to anyone from Hooters waitresses, Hawaiian Tropics bimbos to Low Rider magazine cover models. The only true supermodels are the fab five from the early nineties: Cindy, Naomi, Christie, Linda and Claudia. Being a successful model does not give you instant name recognition. If you are stomping the catwalks of Lagerfeld, Valentino, Prada or Gucci (just to name a few)and snapped in the pages of Vogue, then you are a top model. Sara Ziff made a stellar, memorable and extremely fast rise to the top of the heap. It is astounding how down to earth and realistic she is in the midst of all this reverie. The other models she hangs with also seem in tune with reality and are bright, self aware young entrepreneurs: using beauty and charm as their product. In addition to the fun glamorous side of the business, they also delve into the dark side of modeling: the creepy photogs who exploit these girls with scary advances, incredibly challenging work/travel schedules and constant scrutiny by people who seem programmed to offend though they have no right to judge perfection. This film ends on such a high, pleasant and endearing note: you'll forget that these girls are mannequins on display...and perhaps come away from this humanizing them instead of objectifying them. Aust see for fashion-philes.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For those who like to see beautiful women sob over how hard it is to be
a model, try Sara Ziff's "Activist" documentary about the beauty
business. Entertaining maybe but it really missed the boat on what it
could have shown about this industry.
There is some good points in there adding up to 10 minutes of good material total mostly about photographers groping young women. Most of it comes down to Ziff crying over pimples and how tired she is to work 16 hours a day for a fashion week, how demanding it is to make 100 K in an ad campaign and lying about your age. This is clearly a case of losing perfective by being in a small circle for too long.
Ziff seems like a girl with a head on her shoulders but shouldn't be calling herself an activist by any means. Worst humblebrag doc ever.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One wonders if Sara Ziff's career as a top model will come to an abrupt
end after this expose, she and Ole Schell, her former boyfriend, made
about the ugly side of high fashion. It feels a case of biting the hand
that fed her. The documentary is not without its merits, especially the
somewhat upbeat note in which it ends, as Ms. Ziff is to begin her
studies at Columbia University.
Before all that, we are given glimpses of that rarefied world in which emaciated young women are used to sell upscale schmattes that fat society matrons will buy for their galas and functions. Those wealthy ladies are ultimately the target from the designers, who present their clothes on the skinny young women that will never wear the overpriced numbers seen in the social pages.
Sara Ziff started modeling when she was fourteen. She comes from a comfortable living Manhattan family where the father is a university professor, who brags shamelessly about her daughter's obscene paychecks, and a lawyer mother. She then went to a full time career selling an image of sophistication and glamour in the glossy magazines that cater to our shallow society.
Being a top model has its disadvantages in spite of paychecks of $80,000 and $112,000, Sara shows us. The grueling circuit where these women follow will make even the more grounded girls get sick because their lack of nourishment and sleep. Ms. Ziff even has to deal with the outbreak of horrible pimples in her face as she is about to do a job.
The best part of the documentary involves other models examining the way they are exploited by men that want to use them for their own sexual gratification, as well as the leering paparazzi that hang out while these women run naked backstage changing outfits. They have to endure fashion designers that will belittle them in pointing out the way they perceive the way their bodies look in certain outfits.
We caught with this documentary at the Angelika recently. There were a few model types who sat glued to the screen, probably identifying with Ms. Ziff's complaints. Sara Ziff, who is supposedly photographed doing her work at different years, never changes, something one suspects was done at one time, as it does not make much sense she looks the same at eighteen as twenty-four.
One can only hope Ms. Ziff was clever enough to invest her money wisely because it will probably help her in her old age, which can be cruel to women in that world.
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