From the pervasive obsession with youth to issues of substance abuse, self-esteem, race and plastic surgery, beauty is a commodity in society today.
Directed by acclaimed photographer and filmmaker Timothy Greenfield-Sanders (HBO's "The Black List" and "The Latino List"), ABOUT FACE: SUPERMODELS THEN AND NOW explores the lives and careers of legendary models, highlighting the complex relationship between physical appearance and the business of beauty when it debuts MONDAY, JULY 30 (9:00-10:15 p.m. ET/PT), exclusively on HBO.
Other HBO playdates: Aug. 3 (4:30 p.m.), 5 (5:30 p.m.), 9 (10:30 a.m., 12:55 a.m.), 11 (1:45 p.m.), 14 (2:45 p.m.) and 27 (5:15 a.m.)
HBO2 playdates: Aug. 8 (8:00 p.m.), 26 (7:45 a.m.) and 27 (4:30 p.m.)
HBO Documentary Films presents another weekly series this summer, debuting provocative new specials every Monday through July 30. Other July films include: "Birders: The Central Park Effect" and "The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom" (July 16); and "Vito" (July 23).
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.