We loved Bill Cunningham: New York. We are ridiculously excited for the Advanced Style film. However, we don’t limit ourselves to only critically watching documentaries explicitly about fashion. When Toronto’s Hot Docs fest rolled around a few months ago, the Wornettes took to the theatres. We noticed that there were documentaries on a variety of subjects in which either clothing played an integral role to the subject being explored, or the underbellies of parts of the fashion industry were exposed. Here are a few short reviews—and one longer one—about docs that got us thinking.
She Said Boom: The Story of Fifth Column
Dir. Kevin Hegge (2012)
Hegge combines present day interviews and archival footage to tell the story of the most badass lady fronted art-punk band Toronto has ever seen: Fifth Column. For those not familiar with the post-punk, pseudo psych group that featured a cast of rotating musicians, as well as three solid members (GB Jones, Caroline Azar, and Beverly Breckenridge), they fused art, music, and zines to create a style that was truly their own. Fifth Column came before riot grrrl, and Kathleen Hanna speaks in the film about what an inspiration the band was to her. Kathleen may have written “slut” on herself, but Fifth Column first insisted that “All Women Are Bitches.” Band members GB and Caroline explain in the film their philosophies on fashion: the faker, the better. The bigger the hair, the heavier the make-up, the more “ladylike” you were. As Judith Butler says, all gender is drag, and the girls in Fifth Column seem to really understand this. // Jenna Danchuk
GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling
Dir. Brett Whitcomb (2012)
Flower-adorned, dressed in a sequin bikini, and riding in on a horse. No, this woman is not on the beach—she is entering the wrestling ring. GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling tells the story of the first all-female wrestling program that aired from 1986 to 1990. Each actress turned wrestler had a persona assigned to her and a dazzling ensemble to match: Americana was decked in stars and stripes and Amy the Father’s Daughter in a crop gingham top, Daisy Duke shorts, and pigtails. They were expected to stay in role 24/7 and developed their character by adding to their original costumes with corsets, accessories, fake accents, and even live animals to reflect their own personal style. When a wrestler of GLOW slipped on her leopard gloves or crimson cape, she took on a persona that gave her presence, confidence, and the strength to dropkick and put her opponent in a nelson hold, and look glamorous while doing it. // Jill Heintzman
Meet the Fokkens
Dirs. Rob Schröder and Gabriëlle Provaas (2011)
Twins that dress alike are generally given a cutesy association, either as little kids or fictional characters. In the case of Meet the Fokkens, identical 70 year old sisters Louise and Martine Fokken couldn’t care less about that assumption, wearing matching outfits almost all the time. The documentary examines their life as trailblazers who worked in Amsterdam’s red light district (they helped establish a trade union for sex workers). In their older age, they don’t fit into many cookie-cutter idealized assumptions of what it means to be conventionally attractive. However, their insistence on coordinating their outfits, from bright colours to matching nail polish, prove you can be both identical and distinctive. // Mai Nguyen
Dirs. David Redmon and Ashley Sabin (2011)
The opening scene of Girl Model is chilling. Hundreds of young girls stand in lines, like animals waiting for slaughter, stripped to their underwear, and called upon one by one to be judged and scrutinized by a small group of adults—this one has acne, that one’s hips are too big, she looks too old. The girls are filled with hope, having seemingly waiting the entirety of their short lives for this moment: the moment they stand a chance to become a model.
Girl Model explores a disturbing piece of the modeling industry, a component that’s carefully hidden behind the guise of glamour here in North America. This film reveals the cruel and unfair relationships between young models picked from impoverished areas of Siberia, and the scouts and agencies that change their lives forever. It quickly becomes obvious to the audience that what is presented as a ticket out of poverty is in fact a scheme to get already poor families into so much debt that their daughters will spend their young lives working for free far from home, perhaps modeling—or worse, in brothels.
The story of the injustice of this industry is told through two women, a scout named Ashley, one of the only adults present throughout the film, and the girl she chooses to model in Japan, Nadya. The two provide a stark contrast between the detached and bitter and the emotional and innocent, presenting a sort of subtle industry before and after.
Ashley started in the industry as a model herself, and after hating every moment of it, decided to become a scout. With 15 years of experience under her belt, she scans casting calls for the youngest looking girls to take to Japan. Ashley is eerily detached from the suffering and destruction she is causing in young girls’ lives, often talking about them as if they’re objects. We see her get a cyst and a thyroid removed, a symbol of her rotting core: nobody visits her in the hospital, and she shows the camera a picture of her cyst with excitement, a hairy blonde ball.
Even more unsettling are the two plastic baby dolls she keeps in her home; she says that once she bought a house, she thought that she should have a kid as well.”I used to have three, but I dissected one,” she tells us.
Ashley picks girls like Nadya, the 13 year old focus of Girl Model, and awards them the chance of a lifetime: a modeling career in Japan where they are guaranteed $8000 and at least two jobs. Nadya and her family are overjoyed, planning home renovations to expand when they money comes; sadly, as is almost always the case, it never does.
Nadya finds herself totally lost and alone in a world where no one is looking out for her and no one speaks her language. No one meets her at the airport and she is constantly dragged to casting calls where she is awkward and quickly rejected. Her roommate gains two inches on her hips and is sent back to Siberia with nothing but debt.
The audience is thrown into Nadya’s world as phantoms; we can see her, but she can’t see us, and no matter how frustrated we feel and how strong our desire to help her, she remains completely alone. The experience creates a feeling of utter helplessness, and we become almost too close, but too detached to change the events we see. We meet, however briefly, her family. We see her leaving home for the first time. We watch her journey on the plane to Tokyo, her arrival at the airport, her confusion, her new home. But—and perhaps most importantly—we see all of her emotions, all the time. She does not hide anything from the camera, and this is what makes Girl Model so hard to watch—it is too real, it is too emotional, and truly too painful. When Nadya breaks down on the phone with her mother, she is no longer an untouchable image of perfection and innocence like the models we see on magazine pages, but simply a sad. scared little girl being taken advantage of by a group of greedy adults.
When looking at models trudging in lines down the runway or posing in photoshoots, their eyes are often filled with a mannequin-like emptiness. Now I know why. If the women the world worships have been through the same as the children in Girl Model, they have suffered nothing short of child abuse. // Sofie Mikhaylova & Alyssa Garrison
screencap from Girl Model