New York Film Academy Screening
Director: Constantine Valhouli
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, www.curve-film.com,
lists the latest screenings and events.
By Melissa Ulto
© multo.com 2002