Sunday 15 January 2012

watched - no 30 - Girl Model (David Redmon & Ashley Sabin, 2011)

The underbelly of the modelling world comes under scrutiny in documentary film-makers David Redmon and Ashley Sabin's unsettling expose Girl Model. Following the fortunes of former model turned fashion scout Ashley Arbaugh and Nadya Vall, a thirteen year old from a small Siberian town plucked from a mass scouting show, that resembles an unpalatable meat market, to work in Japan as a 'new face', Girl Model lays bare the less than glamorous lifestyles of the fledgling models and the ethically and morally suspect practices employed by their mentors.

The largely hand-held, verite style camera-work, which incorporates segments of Ashley's own long-running video diary, and eschewing of voice-over narration or onscreen participation from the film-makers cannily allows the participants and the images to speak for themselves, often to damning effect. Ashley and Nadya, at opposite ends of their modelling careers, make for a contrasting but similarly troubled pair, one having reaped the rewards of this notoriously cut-throat business and one eager to do so, but both clearly disillusioned with the closeted world they inhabit. The fresh faced Nadya, whisked away to Japan, unable to speak English let alone Japanese, on the promise of modelling jobs and instant wealth, both of which are only partially delivered, and Ashley, conflicted, suffering from an illness and going through the motions in a depressingly dead-eyed fashion, both appear as distinctly at odds with any perceived notion of a glitz filled, continent hopping career of fame and fortune.

It is the behaviour of the modelling companies themselves that most appals in this unflattering portrait; pandering to (or creating?) the market for barely post-pubescent models, wrangling contracts to their own benefit which unforgivably leaves many of the girls heavily in debt, treating their charges as little more than disposable commodities and all the while convincing themselves that they have the models' best interests at heart. It is Ashley that best symbolises both the upside and cold hearted downside of the modelling world – materially comfortable after her career but riven with doubts about the ethics of the business she works in – one moment filled with ennui and an apparent loathing of the business and the next confidently pitching to prospective models and their families about the benefits of entering into what can only be described as a Faustian pact with any of the agencies on show.

Due for release in the UK in February and distributed by the always thought provoking Dogwoof team, Girl Model is a fascinating and disturbing snapshot of the troubling trade in female flesh and the satiation of male fantasy in the 21st Century.

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