"Can one marry a model? / Kill your past, make you real, raise a family, / by removing you bodily / from back numbers of Sham?" (Nabokov, "Ode to a Model") Zoli Management Inc. rests at a crisscross of designers, advertisers and commercial artisans, male and female models are requested and measured and weighted, itís the nerve center of a modern meat market. Hopefuls walk in and out with portfolios, brand names are sprinkled about ("the Chanel use," "the Avon look"): The lighting of cheekbones and the application of mascara in mega-close-up are major events, photo sessions are protracted Svengali-Trilby tangos ("Thatís it... Tighten up a bit... Bitchier now... A little more innocent, a little more sexual..."). The manufacturing and packaging of idealized images for mass consumption (and deception) is exemplified as "Mr. Middle America" is created in a photographerís Manhattan loft in between talk of Japanese food and leftist schoolmates, a sort of Warholian joke. (The great ghoul himself later turns up to assess the magic: "Itís, uh, a lot of work, yeah.") The molding of chic fake idols proves galling to such a purveyor of responsible images as Frederick Wiseman, yet much of the filmís fascination lies on the way Wiseman keeps running into similarities between his own camera and those sculpturing live mannequins for a cologne ad. The central sequence follows some testy Von Sternberg demanding take after take of a woman taking four steps on the sidewalk while weathered New Yorkers on the edge of the shoot are spliced in for contrast -- the difference between the obsessive choreographing the pose and the saturnine filmmaker recording the action is that, when the day is over, what the other guy unspools is a commercial for womenís stockings. Wiseman closes on the catwalk, where the models are unveiled not like the dancers in French Can Can but like mechanical Marias from Metropolis. Altman paid tribute in PrÍt-ŗ-Porter, but who remembers Michael Crichtonís Looker? In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce