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New York Film Academy Screening
Feb 27/2002
Director: Constantine Valhouli

Is an A for Effort enough?

Slugging back free wine, I settled into a director's chair, leafing through the press kit on my seat. Waiting to see Constantine Vahouli's sophomore flick "Curves", I sipped and waited and sipped some more and then the lights went out. Five minutes later, they were back on, as technical difficulties arose with the projector. To appease the restless crowd, Constantine rallied his troops to pour more wine into emptying cups. Initial grumbles died down - seems saucing the mob was a logistical stroke of genius.

Lights down, projector on and the first thing shown was a commercial of sorts for the plus size clothing line, "Torrid". Constantine's marketing savvy puts him ahead of the independent crowd. "Curve" opens with a montage of fashion imagery, to an upbeat soundtrack.

The film centers on the plus size model industry and its relationship to the fashion world. While normally I would care less about such a subject, there seemed to be an underlying earnestness that wanted to address the media presentation of what an ideal woman looks like. The concept that the women in this documentary are sizes 12 to 22 is refreshing; enough to lull you into thinking you too could be a model. However, one kind of "size-ism" was replaced with another: in order to be a plus sized model, you need to be 5'9" or taller. So while a wider audience is addressed in the 12 to 22 size woman, to be a model, she must be Amazonian in girth and stature.

Still, I could relate more to the plus size models than I could to the standard supermodel - most of these women seemed not to be modeling as a end but as a means, and doing it on their own terms. Their frankness and diversity enriches a vacuous industry. The models tell of their frustration with an industry that seems to be slowly recognizing them, as well as with their own body image issues. They are in the nexus of rejection for what they want to be, while trying to accept their bodies as they are. In this heightened existence, plus size models seem to be straddling their perception of beauty along side an industry that rejects their value as an iconic image of beauty.

Part of me, the part that dismisses all superficial aspects of mass media, wanted to reject these women as merely playing a role in their own degradation, embarrassingly embracing the ideals of beauty on a lesser scale. But I didn't see that - the film made it hard to dismiss these women, because they refused to be pushed aside easily. Their issues aren't necessarily mine, but I could relate to their railing against the status quo of thin genetic freaks and how much that screws up self-perception in so many women and girls. Eating disorders and low self esteem in women, and increasingly men, are often related to the images being aspired to in mass media. The concepts of beauty since the late 1950's have always included the word "thin". I do think it is important to change the perception of the ideal woman, the ideal figure, but I also feel the dialogue needs to move into deeper issues around self-esteem and gender. And maybe the fashion industry is a good place to start. Mode Magazine closing last year doesn't bode well, as discussed in the film.

The sassy, emotive nature of the interviewees would have been even more delightful and moving if the production value had been better. I am not sure what kind of look the camera crews were going for, but the video looked hurried. The interviews didn't take place on a quiet set, but on location, in offices with phones ringing in the background, or on the street with a hand held camera. Granted, "Curve" is a documentary, however, the production value could have been given more attention. The focus in several interviews kept changing from fore to background, leaving this seasoned watcher to think the shooter left the auto focus on. The audio changed levels throughout the film, with a hurried music track over some interviews, almost drowning out the speaker. The titles were pixilated and the editing was overloaded with too many models repeating the same sentiment. One or two people echoing an idea is fine, but when every interviewer gets a chance to weigh in, somehow the point gets lost.

The film was an A for effort, but is that enough? The content surpassed its presentation, but the presentation itself was a distraction. "Curve" moved me, frustrated me and had me talking for a few days after about body image, fashion and filmmaking. I think it would make an excellent news magazine clip or a special on PBS but not sure showing it on the big screen is the most effective way to present it. At the end, "Curve" weighs in with a reality check for the models and the audience and doesn't shy away from the truth. It's an important film in what it is trying to say, but the execution could have been better.

Currently being shown privately, "Curve" can also be purchased on videotape from Prince Street Productions. Their website,, lists the latest screenings and events.

By Melissa Ulto
© 2002

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