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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Film Review | The September Issue

Model behavior

by Thomas Delapa

Hold on to your designer hats, ladies. The title of “most powerful woman in the United States” belongs to neither Oprah Winfrey nor Nancy Pelosi.

Any fashionista will tell you that crown is worn by Anna Wintour, legendary editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, the woman who puts the haute (and haughty) in American haute couture. Without Wintour’s blessing, not even the devil would dare wear Prada.

Known to make famed designers shake and her staffers to unravel, Wintour is the reluctant cover girl in The September Issue, director R. J. Cutler’s chic and breezy documentary that takes us behind the scenes at one of the world’s most influential fashion rags. Perhaps in deference to the camera, surprisingly little fur flies behind these catwalks.

Smartly coiffed in a pageboy and partial to colorful prints and sunglasses, as a subject the guarded Wintour would make the sphinx proud. In her Manhattan offices, she lets her studious gaze do most of the talking. Publisher Tom Florio candidly admits that Wintour isn’t the “warm and friendly” type. But she lets her hair down at times with colleagues, and is given to a disarming giggle. On personal matters she zips up, enigmatically offering that her siblings are “amused” by her career. Cutler doesn’t probe, observing a decorum usually reserved for royalty.

Though Wintour plays it cool, Vogue creative director Grace Coddington gives the session its hot flashes. A former model (like Wintour), the Welsh-born Coddington speaks frankly on the arduous, sometimes frustrating process of working with la Wintour. “It gets harder and harder,” she sighs, particularly after her faux-1920s photo shoot gets executively cropped without her knowledge. Coddington seems to barely able to contain her disdain when it comes to the Wintour-led trend of putting the spotlight on movie stars for featured photo spreads.

For its plus-sized September 2007 issue (the annual fall preview is read by one of ten U.S. women), Vogue voguishly selected British actress Sienna Miller as its cover girl. After brushing off Miller’s natural hair as “lackluster,” the creative team puts her in a wig for a Rome photo session, then digitally touches up her teeth and neck to develop an image of radiant feminine perfection. Forget Susan Boyle (if you haven’t already). If a dish like Miller needs a makeover, what hope is there for the average off-the-rack woman today?

No, Keats’ ageless dictum that truth is beauty would surely end up on the cutting-room floor at Vogue, a citadel dedicated to illusion as much as beauty. Even Cutler’s cameraman falls victim to Wintour’s judgmental eye after he’s serendipitously asked to pose with a model for one of the September shots. Spying a telltale male paunch, Wintour cracks, “You need to go to the gym,” and prescribes an airbrushed weight loss.

Now on DVD, September Issue isn’t as glamorous—or as hefty—as its paperbound model. In fact, if you read between the lines you’ll uncover some noticeable blemishes amid all the gloss.


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