Friday, May 8, 2009

On DVD: "Fashion in Film"

On one hand, the Starz documentary Fashion in Film is pretty lightweight, barely scratching the surface and ticking off names and showing a smattering of clips. On the other hand, it concerns the intersection of two pretty shallow industries, so perhaps they’re getting the treatment they deserve. The concept is worth examination, though; fashion and film have a rich shared history, each one influencing and feeding off the other, functioning in both a complementary and competitive way.

The short (less than an hour) doc utilizes clips from films, red carpets, and cat walks, with commentary by a variety of interview subjects—models and actors, directors (well, Brett Ratner), film and fashion designers, historians, even store buyers. It’s decently constructed, using loosely defined sections to convey the history and future of the intertwining beasts.

“Fashion vs. Costume” examines the job of the costume designer, and how they can use high fashion in costume design. The expected examples are trotted out (The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses, Legally Blonde), but some interesting points are made about the idea of the makeover/transformation—it’s a tool of storytelling shorthand in movies, but it’s often the entire message of the fashion industry (wear these clothes, and you’re a whole other person!). So when Anne Hathaway struts a killer outfit in Devil, it’s also savvy product placement for the designers who furnish those outfits; "I want to wear that and make that transformation too!" says the viewer. “Most people don’t watch fashion shows, they watch movies,” notes writer Ramin Setoodeh, “and movies are like long fashion shows.”

“Reel to Retail” takes a look at how movies (and stars' red carpet choices) influence what consumers choose to wear. The film uses, as an example, the classic green dress worn by Keira Knightley in Atonement, following it all the way to streamlined operations like Faviana, who make a specialty of replicating film fashions. Less obvious examples (like the films of Wes Anderson) are mentioned, leading nicely into the history of the “Stars of Style” section. In this (the film’s best segment), fashion icons are profiled—Katherine Hepburn, James Dean, Marlon Brando, and, of course Audrey Hepburn (specifically her iconic turn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s). We then breeze through the decades with the expected stops along the way: Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde, Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, Jennifer Beals (who is interviewed) in Flashdance (Starz apparently couldn’t get the rights to “Maniac,” so a terrible sound-alike song is used during those clips), Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, and everyone in Clueless. A couple of these are a stretch (Madonna clearly brought her own look, already established in her music videos, to Susan), but it’s still a fun segment.

The next section, “Big Screen Boutique,” takes a closer look at the business end of the relationship—the influence of a show (and film) like Sex in the City, which is a buffet of branding and product placement; the fashion designers (like Armani and Gaultier) who do film work; and the rising value (in payments to actors and actresses) of wearing certain designers on the red carpet, a move which has led directly to the fall of the supermodel (“Kate Winslet is a lot more relatable on a magazine cover… we feel like we know her”). This leads into the final section, “Hollywood Glamour,” which follows this concept to its next logical step: celebs extending the idea of “branding” into creating clothing lines of their own.

Fashion in Film is a light, throwaway hour; it’s pretty well-put together, though the brief length means that many of the interesting themes are merely touched on (particularly the history section). It’s not quite as comprehensive or captivating as some of the other Starz docs (many of which sent me out to Netflix the films mentioned within), but it’s decent junk food.

"Fashion in Film" is currently available on DVD.

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