So a few weeks ago I broke down and bought the two Robert Altman movies with Cher cameos and did a positive review of The Player.
In comparison to that movie, Pret-a-Porter (or Ready to Wear) has a much more European cast and vibe, complete with 1960s-inspried opening credits. The film didn’t work as well as The Player did in the re-watch however, even after years of my watching Project Runway and Ru Paul shows.
The movie seems to be trying to showcase the cut-throat excitement of the fashion world’s “behind the scenes” and the shallowness of its players. The so-muchness of every performance and scene began to take on a one-note quality that became numbingly boring after a while. The reviews on the DVD claimed the film was “exuberant” but it read instead to me as manic. Mr. Cher Scholar watched most of the movie with me and I ended up receiving a very long and informative lecture in the middle of it on improv and the movie's issues (outlined below). Mr. Cher Scholar was formerly a Chicago improv director. I didn’t even realize before his schooling that the movie was improved!
- The problems of improvisation: Manic-ness is a common symptom of novice improv, according to Mr. Cher Scholar. When stressed, actors tend to play to that stress. It comes off very un-natural. Another issue with untrained improv actors is their declaring who their character is (again, out of nervousness). This was occurring throughout the movie (ex: . Stephen Rae declaring, “I’m just a simple Irish Country boy”). All telling versus showing. This was compounded by the problem of too many characters who didn’t have enough screen time to really develop a characters, to even attempt a “show.” And improv takes time. Scenes with larger casts already cause more nervousness due to the amped-up energy at play. The scenes that did seem to work were much more quiet and simplified. Mr. Cher Scholar also said it's harder to reveal much about your character when you’re doing scenes depicting only business relationships. What information of depth can occur in a short business conversation? And unfortunately, the majority of this movie was about business relationships and business conversations. The Julia Roberts and Tim Robbins scenes were absolutely painful to watch. According to Mr. Cher Scholar, Roberts sounded like she was reiterating the stage notes she had received. Their lines definitely seemed flat and their performances were both manic.
- The problem of the Altman style of ambient noise: Mr. Cher Scholar also went into detail about his understanding of Robert Altman’s signature style of having an ambient soundtrack. Apparently Altman likes to shoot scenes in the midst of ambient sound, catching character’s lines in-between sometimes louder noises, characters talking over each other. He said this style demands that you really pay attention or you’ll miss important dialogue. He said McCabe and Mrs. Miller was impossible to watch because, try as you might, you couldn’t hear what any of the main characters were saying and so were lost in most of the movie. Sometimes it works, he said, but in this case this kind of realist soundtrack style, when you add on improvisation, was just a confusing mess.
- The reporter motif with Kim Basinger as southern-accented reporter Kitty Potter sifting through interviews with “super novas and super nobodies:” Basinger's part played more like a cliché than a satire. Instead of a dumb, ambitious and giggling American” it would have been more interesting if they had let her play smart. But I guess that was Lili Taylor’s role as the slovenly reporter from the New York Times. Mr. Cher Scholar also remarked that the reporter device is really hard to play (by design, the character gets no depth) and serves as mostly a functional, exposition devise (telling us who everyone is because the cast is too big for slower reveals). He was amazed at how bad Kim B’s southern accent was considering she is from Georgia.
- What exactly is the story anyway? Linda Hunt, Tracy Ullman and Sally Kellerman play editors of prominent fashion magazines who they spend the movie trying to hire an arrogant trend-setting photographer played by Stephen Rae who claims he came to fame “taking advantage of other people’s insecurities” (which could stand as the major message of the movie). The head of the fashion council is supposedly murdered and these are the major threads of the movie, although they can’t seem to hold it together. Forty minutes in and we still had no idea what the major story was. It never felt like the movie was moving forward. Mr. Cher Scholar used Spinal Tap as a comparison. Fran Dresher’s scene with the band, for example, had a simpler focus, was allowed time to develop, and served to comment on the larger story, the demise of a heavy metal band. Christopher Guest’s improv movies seem to have stronger points to hit in each scene and it all works to push toward the spine story forward. Altman didn’t check in often enough with the spine story and a lot of his scenes seemed superfluous.
- Mr. Cher Scholar was impressed by all the coordination the movie must have demanded with all the scene setups and all the extras in each scene, the sheer cost of the filming on locations. But at the end, he determined the movie was just a mass of entrances where no possible character development could occur, the same scene over and over again for 133 minutes, characters coming in but never going anywhere.
- Many of the small stories were left unresolved. For example, did the three editors come to successful “negotiations” with Milo? We don’t fully know. At the end of the movie, he’s doing a shoot with babies. That seemed inconclusive.
- Fashion already satirizes itself. How can you top it? Altman didn’t reveal anything new, nothing beyond what you’d expect from these characters. The movie deals with the unsavory alliances and the money issues at fashion houses, the last fashion show is entirely of naked girls as a kind of rebel statement. Kitty Potter tries to make meaning out of this and gives up in frustration. You feel like giving up as well. The movie comes up with only “almost satires.”
- The film deals with many sexualities but is devoid of any sexiness. In fact, it seemed the film was trying for a sexy Pink Panther feel. This failed because the cast was too big and the bad improv work poured cold water on all the potential sexiness.
- The shows within the show didn’t seem exactly Ready to Wear collections but more like haute couture shows.
Things I liked:
- The fact that there was a dog in the dog show named “Ladd.”
- The huge cell phones were very funny.
- Richard E. Grant.
- Some of the fashions were funny: the two candles on the head, the siren light hat.
- Teri Garr made me laugh when she got in a cab and said “Tout les bags!”
- Sophia Loren talks about doing aerobics. Remember aerobics! How old-fashioned.
- I liked the variety of fashion shows: the street collection (in an abandoned subway, no less), the over-the-top gay collection, the mature European woman collection.
- I loved the song playing during the naked show, “Pretty” by The Cranberries (“You’re so pretty the way you are”). I also liked the closing Grace Jones version of “La Vie en Rose.”
Cher’s is seen in two scenes, one arriving to a show (as seen on a TV) and the other being interviewed by Kitty Potter (Basinger). You get a good view of her old necklace arm tattoo. She wears a busty white t-shirt top with a leather-like quilted bustier and pants. She talks about how we can never look like Naomi Campbell or Christy Turlington and how these shows are about “women trying to be beautiful,” calling herself a “victim as much as a perpetrator” when Kitty Potter says, with admiration, "Well, we can’t all look like you either." Cher says it’s not about the clothes on your body but what’s inside that counts.”
Cast members who connect to Cher: Linda Hunt won the Best Supporting Oscar we were hoping Cher would win for Silkwood. Teri Garr (of The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour) has a very funny part as the co-hort of Danny Aiello who played Johnnie Camereri in Moonstruck. Sally Kellerman was in the movie Foxes where Cher had a song on the soundtrack, "Bad Love."
Oddly, none of the clothes or hairstyles portrayed on the DVD cover to the right appeared in the movie. And who is that blonde woman?