On Monday, it was Fashion in Film night again and I just wanted to note a few observations about Robert Wiseman’s 1980 documentary Model about the ins and outs of model agency Zoli in New York. What differentiates this documentary from so many others that seemingly try to present reality, is its cool, subjective style. There is no music, no narrator and the fact that the pace is very slow. You will have long drawn out scenes of a photographer shooting a model, or an advert being filmed but it’s drawn out and purposely left in that ‘unedited’ way so that we the audience can see the process, and feel the tediousness of a long and tiring shoot as the model did.
The agency presents itself as brisk and efficient, telling wannabe models how it is ‘You’re too short’, ‘You need more test shots’, and admitting only 2-3% of girls that come to them actually get on their books. They justify themselves as being more than just ‘meat markets’ because they provide models with an experience in travel and exposure to other cultures that not many other industries can.
Of course, it being filmed in 1980, there are the obvious ‘dated’ things you pick up in the film. In the agency, when they see girls coming in with their portfolios, they try to pigeon hole them into ‘looks’ such as the ‘junior look, or the ‘sophisticated look’ or the ‘in-between’ look. The make-up they use on girls is startlingly grown up. A 16 yr old comes onto a shoot looking like she’s 30! The male models are even more hilarious – all big muscles, massive jaws and big tousled hair – they all looked about 40 (in the 80’s apparently, a male model could work for up to 20 yrs!). Another noticeble difference was the catwalk show – at an Oscar de al Renta show, models literally sashayed down a catwalk, spinning and swaying their hips with lots of hand gestures and smiles. Such a contrast to the catwalks of today.
Overall, it made me see the way fashion and ad agencies, model agencies and photographers all interlock and work with one another. For me, fashion may just be something fantastical, something purely aesthetic and artisanal but this film homed in the realities of the business and for the people in the business, there is a lot at stake.