ABOUT FACE: Supermodels Then and Now: TV Review
About Face: Supermodels Then and Now: TV Review

3:23 PM PDT 7/30/2012 by Allison Keene

The Bottom Line

A model-centric documentary that doesn’t spend enough time on its best features.


Timothy Greenfield-Sanders


9 p.m. Monday, July 30 (HBO)

The documentary reveals the fashion industry’s true feelings on aging and plastic


Though the women (and one man, Calvin Klein) interviewed in photographer and filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ new

documentary about supermodels and aging are all veterans of the scene — from Christy Turlington, 43, to China Machado, 81 —

the brief autobiographies and discussions of their heyday do little to illuminate anything new about the fashion world. Peppered

throughout, though, are personal comments begging to be further explored.

The project is done in Greenfield-Sanders’ trademark portrait style, but the impact of that intimacy is diminished by the large number of

interviewees. Instead of going in-depth with a few models, there’s a carousel of names and familiar faces each awarded only a few

soundbites, taken up mostly with biography, before the camera moves on. As the documentary builds, the interviews and accompanying

photographs are interspersed with scenes of the many women meeting up and preparing for a photo shoot. They approach their

camera tests with confidence and deep familiarity, and each one shows — even in those small moments — why she was not just a

model but of the rare “super” breed.

Greenfield-Sanders’ appreciation for beauty is apparent, but there is unexpected pathos, as when Cheryl Tiegs talks sincerely about

strangers saying hello to her on the street because they had seen her photographs and how that made her think, “Now I have friends.”

Greenfield-Sanders seems to really miss an opportunity in not exploring more aggressively some curiosities of the industry, such as

when Paulina Porizkova says, “What people called sexual harassment, we called compliments.” The documentary also alights

briefly on drug use and the abuse of young girls who are made up to look like women, as well as how AIDS affected the industry, but none

of these topics are dwelt on for long.

The subject of plastic surgery is broached, with the interviewees almost evenly divided on the issue, and there are nebulous comments

about inner beauty (says Marisa Berenson: “When you get older, you build something else in your core, which goes beyond the

physical, because it has to”). In fact, Berenson’s remarks seem to sum up most everyone’s feelings about beauty: It becomes a big deal only

once you lose it, and then you can spend time on the rest of you.

Of all the women, Isabella Rossellini is, unsurprisingly, the most intriguing, saying the issue is not that women want to be young

perhaps, but that advertising is geared toward youth simply because the young are more gullible. Further, she makes some worthy

remarks about the inherent misogyny of fashion and plastic surgery (“Is this the new foot-binding?”), but the thread ends there and isn’t

picked up by any of her modeling peers.

About Face is at its best when the focus is on aging itself. Eighty-one year old Carmen Dell’Orefice talks about not caring when her look

is dissected by photographers — she just walks out. But she admits that plastic surgery is a natural part of her regimen. Jerry Hall, no

fan of facial enhancements, candidly proclaims: “Of course it’s no fun getting old and sick and dying. We all know that’s coming, and it’s a

bore. But why shouldn’t we be allowed to age? When I turned 50, I felt a sense of achievement.” It is in those honest, even if conflicting,

moments that About Face finally feels intimate, instead of just a fashion parade.

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