In his latest documentary, About Face: The Supermodels, Then and Now, photographer and filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders takes a look at the often bizarre world of the fashion model from the perspective of the aging models who once ruled the runways. Viewers are invited to take a peek inside the world of fashion modeling through interviews with the 20th century’s best-known supermodels. Along the way, other subjects rear their heads, including beauty, changes in the industry and the struggle to come to terms with a world that adored and then, for the most part, forgot them when they began to show signs of age.
About Face: The Supermodels, Then and Now is currently airing on HBO. Among the models interviewed are such once-famous names as Jerry Hall, Carol Alt, Christie Brinkley, Isabella Rossellini and Cheryl Tiegs, along with industry powerhouses Calvin Klein and Eileen Ford. The documentary earned recognition at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where it was named an official selection.
Greenfield-Sanders clearly strikes a chord with many of his subjects as he interviews them about the fashion industry as it once was, and many of them open up to him with their personal stories as well as their beliefs about the nature of beauty, aging and life in general. Viewers who remember the days when Mick Jagger and Billy Joel were considered lucky to land Jerry Hall and Christie Brinkley will enjoy an insider’s look into the modeling industry as it once was. Younger viewers will be equally fascinated to learn about an industry that glorified and degraded beautiful women in the same breath; models whose beauty was great enough to be considered a talent were routinely subjected to sexual harassment and abuse that no man would have accepted.
It’s perhaps understandable that Greenfield-Sanders chose to carefully sidestep the reality that the industry that made superstars of his interview subjects carried them on a red carpet to the cusp of middle age and then unceremoniously dumped them. The women, however, seem to be poised uncertainly on the edge of revealing how it felt to face the rest of their lives without having had any previous need to develop character or inner beauty. It’s hard to tell for sure, however, since Greenfield-Sanders is careful never to let the conversations go there.
This is no mere retrospective, however. A more apt word might be introspective. The models are clearly delighted to feel the warmth of the limelight back on their faces, and most of them seem determined to seize what may be their last opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings about their industry and to share what they are doing now. Perhaps the most interesting insight to come from the interviews is the painful, hard-won realization of many of the women that beauty is defined by more than toned skin and symmetrical features.