×

About Face: The Supermodels, Then and Now

The docu revisits some of the more famous faces of the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s -- women who set a standard of beauty for generations.

With:
With: Carmen Dell'Orefice, China Machado, Paulina Porizkova, Carol Alt, Jerry Hall, Isabella Rossellini, Lisa Taylor, Christie Brinkley, Karen Bjornson, Kim Alexis, Cheryl Tiegs, Calvin Klein, Bethann Hardison, Beverly Johnson, Pat Cleveland, Jade Hobson.

A big box of eye candy as well as an indictment of genetics, “About Face” revisits some of the more famous faces of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s — women who were beautiful then, are beautiful now, and set a standard of beauty for several generations. Helmer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders allows his subjects to reflect on what it meant to work at a time when “model” meant something other than just anonymous faces on glossy magazines; what it meant exactly isn’t often articulated, but the women are charming, candid and honest about who they were and how. HBO pic will likely be a highly popular entry.

The recollections from the likes of the brassy Jerry Hall, the sardonic Paulina Porizkova, the saucy Christie Brinkley and the self-deprecating Carol Alt don’t usually address the issues head-on, and it’s often up to the viewer to dig up deeper meaning from their memories. But in telling their stories,  the women touch not only on the more sensational aspects of life at the top (the clubs, the drugs, the celebs, etc.), but the insecurity that seemed to afflict so many of them; the clinical appraisals they got from bookers, photographers and modeling agencies; and the overall sense of exploitation.

Popular on Variety

One particular area Greenfield-Sanders (who helmed three installments of HBO’s “The Black List”) barges boldly into is race. The cast of “About Face” includes numerous models of color, and Bethann Hardison, Beverly Johnson, China Machado and Pat Cleveland all contribute mightily to the story of modeling’s color barrier and how it came toppling down.

Still, it wasn’t just race that proved an obstacle to the women’s advancement. Hardison recalls that the profession was held in such low esteem that when she told her mother she was modeling, the older woman assumed she was a prostitute until she saw her daughter in a TV commercial. On the subject of models and drugs, fashion director Jade Hobson admits, “We created a monster,” as the aesthetic changed to fit the wasted look of the women being photographed. It’s a startling insight, one that feeds into the ever-changing preferences of the fashion industry; to hear some tell it, the world’s most successful model now would be a 7-year-old with breasts.

Such was not the case when these women were girls, which they certainly are not now. Plastic surgery is not the film’s central subject, but while some subjects admit nothing, others are quite frank about having had work done. “I don’t want to look younger,” says the elegant Karen Bjornson. “I just want to look well rested.” (She does.) The oldest of the working fashion models, the silver-maned Carmen Dell’Orefice, doesn’t come right out and say it, but slyly asks, “If you had the ceiling falling down in your living room, would you not go and have a repair?”

Besides its bevy of gravity-defying beauties, “About Face” provides a window into the very insecurities to which models are supposed to be immune: They were supposed to act, walk and pose as though they’re the most glorious things ever born, and to try and believe it. But judging by the very likable subjects of Greenfield-Sanders’ film, they’re beset by the same uncertainties as the rest of us mortals.

Production values are topnotch, and the archival footage is fascinating.

About Face: The Supermodels, Then and Now

Docu

Production: An HBO Documentary Films and Perfect Day Films presentation. Produced by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Chad Thompson. Executive producers, Tommy Walker, Michael Slap Sloane, Sheila Nevins. Directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.

Crew: Camera (color), Greenfield-Sanders; editor, Benjamin Gray; music, Neal Evans, Sebastian Blanck, M.L. Perlman; music supervisors, Hal Willner, Tom Sarig; sound, Francisco Latorre, Jim Spickler, Lucas Michael Lee, Mat Dennis, Stefan Springman; sound designer, Nicholas Sjostrom; associate producers, Beauregard Houston-Montgomery, Jade Hobson. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Documentary Premieres), Jan. 23, 2012. Running time: 70 MIN.

With: With: Carmen Dell'Orefice, China Machado, Paulina Porizkova, Carol Alt, Jerry Hall, Isabella Rossellini, Lisa Taylor, Christie Brinkley, Karen Bjornson, Kim Alexis, Cheryl Tiegs, Calvin Klein, Bethann Hardison, Beverly Johnson, Pat Cleveland, Jade Hobson.

More Film

  • Shirley Chen and Jose Angeles appear

    'Beast Beast': Film Review

    Writer-director Danny Madden’s “Beast Beast” clatters to life with organic percussion: a stick rat-a-tatting against an iron fence, a skateboard scraping on concrete, a rifle pinging bullets against a defenseless tin plate. Together, these sounds combine into jazz, despite the discordance of the three teens making such a ruckus. Krista (Shirley Chen), the stick thwacker, [...]

  • Sundance: PBS POV Acquires Kenyan Doc

    Sundance: PBS POV Acquires Kenyan Doc ‘Softie’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    PBS’s documentary arm POV has snapped up U.S. broadcast rights for Kenyan director Sam Soko’s “Softie,” fresh off its world premiere in the World Documentary Cinema competition at Sundance, Variety has learned. The film, which is the first Kenyan-produced movie to premiere at the festival, will air as part of the series’ 33rd season, which kicks [...]

  • Will Smith as Mike Lowrey in

    Box Office: 'Bad Boys for Life' Rules Over 'The Gentlemen'

    STX’s “The Gentlemen” proved no match for Sony’s “Bad Boys for Life,” which again left box office competitors in the dust after collecting $34 million in its sophomore outing. Those ticket sales, pushing the Will Smith and Martin Lawrence-led sequel past the $100 million mark, were easily enough to claim the No. 1 spot for [...]

  • Kajillionaire

    'Kajillionaire': Film Review

    The world is a weird place. Miranda July knows that, but the rest of us sometimes forget. Or maybe we just don’t want to admit how bizarre it is that society more or less agrees that back rubs and hot tubs and flavored chips and McRibs are an appropriate reward for a bazillion years of [...]

  • Stellan Skarsgard

    Göteborg Listens to Stellan according to Skarsgård

    GÖTEBORG, Sweden — Laughs were aplenty at the Stora Theatern, where Göteborg Film Festival artistic director Jonas Holmberg welcomed the recipient of the Nordic Honorary Dragon Award, fresh off his Golden Globe win for HBO’s “Chernobyl”. “It wasn’t planned. I thought that will be my only award this year, that’s why I said yes!” – joked Skarsgård, [...]

  • Promising Young Woman

    'Promising Young Woman': Film Review

    Given that the entertainment industry is pretty much the center of the #MeToo universe in terms of generating its most public effects — and, needless to say, causes — probably no Sundance film this year will be as hot a conversation topic as “Promising Young Woman.” Emerald Fennell’s first directorial feature is a female revenge [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content