One of Frederick Wiseman's most well-known documentaries, MODEL, gives a bleak picture of the modeling industry circa 1980; it's message still holds today.
Wiseman looks at different aspects of the business, starting inside a typical Manhattan agency office, where the staff selects, judges, and rejects models on a regular basis. At one modeling shoot, a photographer creates an artificial driving scenario for a car advertisement; at another shoot, a
photographer tells three models to be "like mannequins." A Black model talks about his experiences. A crowd gathers around a street shoot featuring a glamorous model.
During the film's longest sequence, a director tries repeatedly to capture a spontaneous meeting between a male and female model during a filmed commercial for Evan-Picone. A feminist rally in the background contrasts with the eye-catching activities. For another ad, a coach helps a model read for
a part. The head of the modeling agency is interviewed on television. Workers sew garments for the models in the garment center. Several models get ready for a major fashion show backstage. On the runway, the models show the haute couture for the fashion critics at the big show.
Shot in noirish black-and-white, MODEL reveals two sides to the modeling industry that are supposed to be concealed: the boredom and the ugliness. The former comes through the tedious, often foolishly repetitious work the models are forced to perform (the supposedly spontaneous "bump" during the
Evan-Picone shoot is practiced and filmed ad nauseam--no pun intended). The emptiness of the modeling occupation and many of the industry people also creates an ennui, which, unfortunately, affects the interest-level of some scenes.
But the ugliness livens things up, such as in the scenes in the agency where the models must deal with the harsh rejections, where the photographers and directors patronize the models with endearments (or worse), where the everyday folk gawk at the surreal shoots on the street, and where the
models show off hideous creations to the gargoyle-like critics in the ludicrous finale (John Davey's black-and-white photography especially de-emphasizes the glamour here). Throughout MODEL, Wiseman shows concern for the dehumanization of people (i.e., the models as objects) and the oppressiveness
of social hierarchies (e.g., within the agency, on the shoots, the garment workers in contrast to the models). At times, MODEL even looks and feels like an Antonioni film, with the characters disconnected from their surroundings and each other.
Unlike the more recent documentary on the industry, UNZIPPED (1995), which celebrates fashion, consumerism, and the art of the business, MODEL remains a brave deconstruction of the artificial and the banal. It also exposes the industry without exploitation or malice. Yet, it may take some effort
to appreciate the studious approach to a subject that is usually swathed in glitz and glitter.
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- Released: 1980
- Rating: NR
- Review: One of Frederick Wiseman's most well-known documentaries, MODEL, gives a bleak picture of the modeling industry circa 1980; it's message still holds today. Wiseman looks at different aspects of the business, starting inside a typical Manhattan agency offi… (more)