Monday, April 26, 2010

coco and anna

In the past couple weeks I watched both "Coco Before Chanel" and "The September Issue." And I loved them both.

"Coco Before Chanel" provides insight into the life of Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel-- the hardships, the chances she took, the things she put up with, the things she noticed.  Obviously we all know how the story ends--with an empire-- but to see the pivotal moments and not only how she handles them but how she sometimes creates them made for wonderful cinema.

The contrast between her commonsense notions of dress and the court-influenced fashion of her day was so striking because it revealed how Chanel's revolutionary ideas became the standard-bearers.  Do you remember reading Shakespeare or the Bible and realizing those were the original sources of sayings like "Am I my brother's keeper?" or "neither rhyme nor reason?"  That's how I felt about this movie, watching Chanel create what would become the Little Black Dress.  (And I have to note that it's not how I felt watching "Forrest Gump," in that Zemeckisian sequence where it turns out Forrest Gump is running across America and also behind all the major cultural indicators of his time, which provoked some of the most sustained eye-rolling during a movie I've ever experienced and only through the miracle of time have I finally gotten over some of the schmaltz to appreciate Tom Hanks' acting.)

Audrey Tatou does a wonderful job inhabiting the character and communicating her sense of independence, even while showing the connections she makes with people.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching the evolution of her life.

The September Issue is an opposite kind of film-- snappily paced, quick scenes, focused on one project-- the production of the September issue of Vogue magazine.  But there's a fashion icon - Anna Wintour- at its center, anchoring the film, and I loved this one too.  Oh Anna Wintour! She is such a hero to me. That woman can move mountains, let alone pages. It's not really the substance but the style of what she does that impresses.  Not the what, but the how.  There's so much to learn from her as soon as people can get over the fear.  But no one does.  Except the inimitable Grace Coddington, who never had any fear to get over, because she is brilliant and she started at Vogue with Anna, and Anna respects her.  Such a fascinating duo- there's obvious mutual respect and shared backgrounds, but also differing aesthetics-- even their hair says so much. Anna has the Anna Haircut, the famous severe blonde chin length bob that she probably gets trimmed every week.  Grace has this lovely romantic cloud of red frizz that frames her shoulders. Their approach to the magazine is quite different, and it's interesting to see how this plays out in the production of shoots.

Also, the insights from and about family-- Anna's daughter Bee, her justice-oriented siblings, her partner (ex?) and other child (children?) who never cross the camera's path-- all provide perspective that fascinates because they round out the persona of a woman whose public life is so tied to her work and not her family.

Both films offer a study on the art of clothing, the motivations behind our interpretations, the work of the designer-- and in the case of the September Issue, also of the stylist, the photographer, the retailer (with little of the model and nothing of the consumer).  Inspiring to see how fashion analysis can be so rich and rewarding, and playful and fun.  All while not taking itself too seriously- which is key!