Anna Wintour and Anorexia

The New York Times recently noted that Ms. Wintour serves as a roving editor at Conde Nast, not only editing Vogue but overseeing the fate of the half dozen other women’s magazines that Conde Nast publishes.
She is a perfect position to stand up against the relentless, unbending dominanace of the anorexic as an aesthetic ideal. It is clearly valuable as an easy way to make clothing drape and hang elegantly, as it might on a clothes hangar, but it comes at a huge cost, not only to the women who starve themselves for the sake of their fleeting careers as models but to all those other women who internalize a near impossible, estremely unhealthy ideal. It is clearly not a gold standard that persists across cultures and centuries but its grip on the modern fashion industry is long overdue for change.
Despite the confessional books that chronicle its devastating effects on individuals, despite the outcries from parents and feminists, despite the alternative models and standards that can serve fashion well, anorexic models remain the default option of almost every fashion label on the planet. Anna Wintour is one of the few individuals who could actually make a difference. Why doesn’t she just do it? Millions of women, and concerned men as well, could stand behind her.

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Richard Diebenkorn

The retrospective of Diebenkorn’s work at the de Young museum in San Francisco offers an expansive view of his work during his Berkeley years in the 50s and 60s. What the de Young displays from its permanent collection is poor preparation for the diversity of work on display. We see his transition from abstraction to figuration vividly, with even the most clear cut of landscapes and portraits retaining the flatness and band-like qualities of his more abstract work. His palette is more subtle than I’d imagined as well, with great use of blue, blue-grey, yellow, and golden yellows in particular. His portraits evoke a powerful sense of Hopper’s alienated urban citizens and deserted scenes, but without the depth of field and realism of Hopper so that a tension with a more abstract rendering of space (the space of the canvas) contends with the rendering of social space. They also evoke, pointedly, Matisse, in color, form, composition and subject matter, but a similar avoidance of realism and an emphasis on tone or mood.
Most striking, to me, about his portraits is the absence of facial detai. Very few render faces in a recognizable way. Some have no features at all. The absence of this traditional focal point again pushes consideration toward the plane of the canvas and to the overall, haunting mood of the piece rather than evoke comparison/constrast with actual people or a model. There are exceptions but Diebenkorn manages to be both radical and traditional at the same time: offering what appear to be familiar scenes and compositions and then decomposing the familiarity into something more surprising, disconcerting, arresting and even disturbing. It is a show well worth seeing.

Visible Evidence at 20

Twenty years ago (1993) a few schoalars, notably Michael Renov and Jane Gaines, conceived of a conference devoted to documentary film.  It was two years after my book on documentary, Representing Reality, opened up this field to more than content analysis and the event was a small but great success.

It could easily have been over and out at that point.

But the ball started rolling and for the last 20 years an annual conference has taken place, everywhere from Canberra, Australia to Istanbul, Turkey.

This year’s event, in Stockholm, was spectacularly good. Malin Wahlberg and her team created a near ideal conference.  A rich array of topics came up for consideration from shame in reality television shows to the impact of audiences of reenacted mass murder (in the astonding film, The Act of Killing). People, some people, still read their papers as if they were reciting the alphabet (presenting their thoughts, as orators learn to do, is a skill many academics never learn), but not all did so by any means and what gave great vitality to the conference was the adroit mix of events. Parallel panels, up to five at once, were one thing, but sandwiched between them were 30 minute coffee breaks that allowed for genuine minging and interaction.  (That panels and other events stared punctually, made everything work even better; over the four days of the conference, I only attended one panel that started quite late; that lapse seriously harmed the panel’s format but it was a rare and perhaps unique lapse.) And panels were definitely not the only attraction in this multi-ring circus.  Screenings of films also paralleled the panels or took center stage during parts of the day or at night.  At other times, keynote speakers offered papers to the entire assemblage and lunches were available in the same building as everything else: Filmhuset, the national film center that is associated with Stockholm University, the national film archive and more. An exception was a buffet dinner/reception at the colossal, gold-leaf covered City Hall, where finely attired waiters brought out a tasty array of Swedish dishes and poured some excellent wines to mark the 20th anniversary.  The only flaw was when the same waiters gathered up the serving trays and returned them to the kitchen, to the dismay of the assembled guests, when the pre-dinner speakers carried on longer than expected, but they eventually concluded their remarks, the serving trays were brought back out and everyone enjoyed themselves on a summer night in Stockholm.

It would be hard to imagine a more well conceived conference, with a more engaged gathering of filmmakers and scholars but I hope there will be many more like it in the future.