An official selection of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, ABOUT FACE: SUPERMODELS THEN AND NOW was filmed by Greenfield-Sanders in his trademark intimate portrait style, and features interviews with some of the most celebrated visages of the 20th century. Through conversations with supermodels, including Carol Alt, Marisa Berenson, Karen Bjornson, Christie Brinkley, Pat Cleveland, Carmen Dell'Orefice, Jerry Hall, Bethann Hardison, Beverly Johnson, China Machado, Paulina Porizkova, Isabella Rossellini, Lisa Taylor and Cheryl Tiegs, the documentary reveals the roles they played in defining - and redefining - beauty over time.
When asked her view of cosmetic surgery, Carmen Dell'Orefice replies, "That's a very polite way of asking me, I'm sure, ‘Have you had a facelift?' Well, if you had the ceiling falling down in your living room, would you not go and have a repair?" Model and actress Isabella Rossellini offers a different perspective, wondering, "Is this the new foot binding? Is this a new way to be misogynist? Is this a new way to tell women that you are ugly?"
Some of the women recall how modeling was once considered improper, and certainly not a viable career. Bethann Hardison quips that her mother suspected she was a prostitute until she saw her in a TV commercial. "Nowadays, everybody wants their child to model," she says, adding, "Back in the day, nobody wanted anybody to be a model!" China Machado says she was paid $100 a month when she started modeling in the early 1950s, observing, "I was the highest-paid model in Europe."
Others recall life in the ‘70s and ‘80s, including wild parties with the likes of Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, when some models compensated for shyness and insecurity with cocaine. After drugs entered the scene, models assumed a harsher look and in some cases bore visible track marks on their arms. The party slowed down with the arrival of AIDS, which affected many in the fashion industry.
ABOUT FACE maps the ways the modeling business has changed, and remained the same, through the decades. Older and wiser now, the women speak openly about fears and challenges they wouldn't have voiced earlier in their careers. As Paulina Porizkova observes, self-esteem was measured very differently than it is today. "What people called sexual harassment we called compliments," she says.
"When you get older, you build something else in your core, which goes beyond the physical, because it has to," says Marisa Berenson. As Jerry Hall puts it, "Of course it's no fun getting old and sick and dying. We all know that's coming and it's a bore," she says. "Why shouldn't we be allowed to age? When I turned 50, I felt a sense of achievement."
ABOUT FACE's look at beauty as a commodity and the pressures of overnight stardom is interwoven with a celebration of the reinvention that can come with aging. Several models talk about the sense of freedom, satisfaction and longevity they derive from learning to age gracefully, whether by focusing on family or new interests and business opportunities.
The film culminates in a bi-coastal group photo shoot featuring more than a dozen of the world's top fashion models in New York and Los Angeles.
ABOUT FACE also features appearances by Kim Alexis, Nancy Donahue, Esmé, Eileen Ford, Dayle Haddon, Christy Turlington Burns and Calvin Klein.
Timothy Greenfield-Sanders is a filmmaker and photographer known for his strikingly intimate portraits of world leaders and major cultural figures, which can be found in museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney Museum and National Portrait Gallery. He won a Grammy for his 1998 documentary "Lou Reed: Rock and Roll Heart." His 2008-2010 multimedia project "The Black List" featured three HBO documentaries, a book and a national museum tour, and won an NAACP Image award. In 2011, he created "The Latino List," which included the HBO documentary, a Brooklyn Museum exhibition and a bilingual book.