J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Picture Me: Model Turned Filmmaker

Prepare to be shocked: not only is there considerable drug use in the modeling business, some unscrupulous photographers sexually take advantage of the girls—yes, in many cases they really are girls. Such are some of the revelations in super-ish model Sara Ziff’s video diary that she and her filmmaker boyfriend Ole Schell cut and shaped into the feature length documentary Picture Me (trailer here), which opens in New York this Friday imediately following the conclusion of the 2010 NY Fashion Week.

Though Ziff first started modeling at age fourteen, she really began pursuing it in earnest after graduating from high school, relatively late by modeling standards. Certainly beautiful, she seems quite successful judging by the five and six figure checks she shows the camera. The close proximity of her supportive family is also an advantage, keeping her more or less grounded. Still, as we watch her over the course of a chaotic season, the exploitative nature of the business (even at Ziff’s rarified level) takes a toll on her.

Ziff is probably rather bright and down-to-earth by industry standards, but that does not make her a fascinating personality on the big screen. She is after all, a young woman in her early twenties with only a high school education. (To her credit, she does enroll in college late in the film.) Frankly, her much less successful former roommate is a far more compelling figure. She can definitely tell a bad gig story, disturbing as it might be.

The real question is just what her freeloading b.f. did to earn his co-director, co-editor, and d.p. credits. In addition to being the subject, Ziff clearly shot much of the footage of her friends and fellow models herself. Hopefully, Schell was very active in the editing bay. He certainly was not picking up any checks. In fact, some of the scenes he did indeed shoot feel almost as intrusive as the creepy lechers backstage snapping photos of the models as they change (a practice designers and agencies inexplicably tolerate though it must violate American labor laws).

There are probably better modeling exposes available, but Picture should be sufficient to make parents think twice about allowing their daughters to pursue such a career. Even though one might expect it to have a glitzy E! sheen, Picture is a fairly dark and dingy looking affair, shot in backstage dressing rooms and crash pads on handheld consumers video cameras. Hardly glamorizes the model’s lifestyle, it shows the behind-the-scenes reality, zits and all.

It is hard to make a truly boring movie about beautiful women who are often skimpily clad. However, aside from a few insightful interviews with Ziff’s less successful colleagues, Picture is largely dependent on the sex appeal of its participants to hold audience interest. As a result, it is unlikely to make much of a lasting impression with viewers, unless they are fascinated by the modeling world to an unhealthy degree or have been stalking Ziff. It opens in New York this Friday (9/17) at the Angelika Film Center.

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