Experimental Reviews

FILM ME (2019) – 4 stars

Director: Ed Picard

Cast: Sophia Voss, Isabella Besque, Andrezo Cristino, Zhong Yang, Ed Picard

Running time: 3mins

I have to admit, like so many other white men who have grown up amid social assumptions that the male voice is inherently authoritative, I have developed a propensity to pontificate about any topic, no matter how obscure, as if I am an expert in it. It’s a problem it’s important to acknowledge, and one that I’m working on – but even all the historical vestiges of centuries of patriarchal privilege cannot equip me with enough misplaced self-confidence to try and blag my way through talking about fashion.

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’ve never been in any danger of being a dedicated follower of fashion. I don’t have the time or the energy to dress to impress – I find clothes which are comfortable, and I wear them to death. It’s a problem which I cannot skirt around as I grapple with FILM ME, an unabashed ode to glamour through the ages which falls firmly outside of my comfort zone. I will do my best though.

In contrast to myself, director Ed Picard seems to have been born to tell this story. Born in Paris (of course), he has spent the last decade honing his craft as a fashion filmmaker, working with French fashionistas including photographer Ali Mahdavi and director and designer Manfred Thierry Mugler. Ultimately, FILM ME is a love-note to the art forms which he is clearly very passionate about – and as far as I can tell it works very well on that basis, with Picard drawing on the experience in fashion and performance arts he gained in those early engagements.

The film charts a course through four particular epochs of fashion and cinema. We begin in the silent era, where – as demonstrated by Picard while shooting the vampish Sophia Voss – despite the primitive technology, photographers first perfected the art of lighting to capture breath-taking imagery even with the primitive technology available in cinema’s nascent stage. We swiftly move into the pin-up era, where a second model, Isabella Besque, demonstrates how the evolution of technology allows for a photographer to draw upon more energetic and playful aspects of the less demure fashion of the 50s and on.

Another transition of several decades sees us leap into the 1980s, with neon lighting and pulsating synth being used to highlight the moody, angular style of the time, as modelled by the fearsome Andrezo Cristino. The moodier elements of this new fashion are carried forth into the final epoch covered, with Picard shooting a model in the modern day in front of a clean, minimalist background. In this last scenario, the technology has evolved to capture images of the suitably fierce Zhong Yang in such high fidelity that little trickery is required to accentuate the mood of the scene – it can almost entirely emanate from the model, and how she presents the style and sensibilities of the era.

This is not to say that any of the periods are presented as being superior, however. Each particular scene pays a unique homage to the processes of fashion photography which were necessary to draw people into the imagery before them; to suspend their disbelief and believe that what they are seeing could be playing out before them in real-time, in flesh and blood rather than flickering lights echoing events long past. Even with the most advanced technology, that requires guile, wit, patience and creativity – and Picard rightly treats the artistic approach of each era with respect. Similarly, none of the fashions themselves seem to lapse into pastiche – and considering so many filmmakers automatically slide into cliché when addressing the shoulder-padded style of the 80s, that is worthy of praise.

With that being said, the film is arguably lacking a second dimension with regards to how it covers the relationship between the photographer and the model. The problem with writing love-notes is that they often tend to brush over the rough-edges of their targets. At times it might be more collaborative, or more personable, but there is never any allusion at the darker side to fashion, or Hollywood – no demonstration of how the relationship between women in front of the camera and (predominantly) men behind it might have evolved as the former fought and won new rights and freedoms from the latter.

There are brief moments where the grim legacy of #MeToo allegations levelled at the likes of Terry Richardson, Mario Testino, Bruce Weber and Patrick Demarchelier unintentionally loom large. As Picard’s photographer onanistically strokes his equipment, cranking an old-time camera or hammering the shutter button while a woman models for him, there is something exploitative or voyeuristic about the situation, and now that that ugly aspect of the fashion industry is out in the open, it does need to be addressed, however enamoured you might be with the rest of it. Perhaps Picard is a little too in love with his chosen industry to address this less palatable side of things – but equally, it might be a little unfair of me to expect him to address that adequately in under four minutes.

Whatever there might be to say about the darker side of fashion, FILM ME seamlessly blends odes to both cinematography and style throughout its tight three-minute runtime, and to have done that requires a huge amount of restraint, patience and editorial skill. Perhaps this is more a campaign than a film – and in that capacity it works exceedingly well.

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