By Eulàlia Iglesias
Fashion films are the haute couture of fashion’s adverts. Instead o being designed to be continually shown in the small screen among so many prêt-à-porter ads, they’re devised as an exclusive product, longer and with a bigger budget, reserved to special occasions. That’s why talking about art fashion films is a bit redundant. Since the beginning, the greatest fashion brands have trusted their audiovisual promotion at a given point to prestigious film directors, from Martin Scorsese to David Lynch. The fashion film concept has only given this trend a name and format. These ads take a postmodern conception of publicity to its extreme consequences: the one that affirms that ads no longer offer information on the brand but associate it to a desirable and attractive imagery, even to the concrete style of a director. In fashion films, the film itself is the message. But dressed in branded clothes.
Not few well-known directors have shot fashion films: Roman Polanski for Prada; the series by John Cameron Mitchell for Dior with Marion Cotillard as protagonist; the cycle #Tales for Miu Miu directed by female directors like Ada DuVernay, Agnès Varda, Alice Rohrwacher, Lucrecia Martel or Miranda July; Karl Lagerfeld’s films for his own brand, Chanel, with a different actress every year (2016 is the year of Kristen Stewart); Harmony Korine for Proenza Schouler, breaking one of the main taboos of fashion films, the social and economic imaginary…
We’re still to see whether fashion films will bring us a new generation of directors as did art music videos some years ago, that is, new directors who will carve out a name for themselves by granting the format a particular aesthetic and at the same time a personal one. The German Monica Menez seemed she would become the Michel Gondry of the field, but we haven’t heard of her in the past two years…
a film directed by Spike Jonze, starring Margaret Qualley
The dynamics of the body going through a space are the main protagonists of Spike Jonze’s short films since his first skate projects. Some of his later videos maintain that skate spirit of experimenting the city by sliding on it: the Beastie Boys running, jumping and driving in Sabotage or Dinosaur Jr. moving through the metropolis playing golf in Feel the Pain. And when he displays a choreography in a unique space, Jonze doesn’t usually follow the routines typified by mainstream videos: he prefers amateur subversion as in Fatboy Slim’s Praise You or produces unexpected liaisons as that Sofia Coppola’s gymnastics exercise to the Chemical Brother’s Elektrobank.
His ad for Kenzo works as a feminine remake of Weapon of Choice, that homage to the post-classical musical in which Christopher Walken took possession, through dance, of the interiors of a lonely Los Angeles hotel. Shot at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, the royal rationalist lines of which remind us of the localisation of that piece for Fatboy Slim, in this fashion film for the Japanese brand, it’s a gala guest (actress Margaret Qualley) who all of a sudden feels possessed by Mutant Brain, the Sam Spiegel & Ape Drums track performed by Jamaican MC Assassin, and starts dancing around the huge building. In the music video for The Pharcyde’s Drop, the band already seemed to fall apart around the block through the very simple trick of reproducing in reverse some movements that had been also shot that way.
And Jonze’s ad also reminds us of another Fatboy Slim video, Ya Mama, in this case signed by Traktor, in which the bodies of the characters enter a sudden out-of-control state, as if their bones were shaken inside a cocktail shaker, as soon as they hear a cassette playing Push the tempo. This video was shot in the Caribbean, where he also shot his latest images for Maya Deren, one of the pioneers of all this. Deren conceived film as a specialty that should capture the transfiguration of bodies through rituals linked to movement. If the Weapon of Choice music video suggested a harmonious relationship between music and dancer, the Kenzo ad signed by Spike Jonze offers a hyper-stylised version of the transformation of a woman in a voodoo trance; dance as an expression of the possession of the body by a transfiguration force.
a film directed by Wes Anderson, starring Adrien Brody
On the other hand, Wes Anderson encapsulates his style and goes back to one of his recurrent themes, family, in his Christmas miniature for H&M. The director of The Royal Tenenbaums goes back to one of his favourite tropes, trains, as they allow him to concentrate one of his most recognizable characteristics, what Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell called the planimetric shot: the composition using frontal shots with almost no depth of field on which the space is volumetrically unfolded through horizontal or vertical lines. The film shows the reactions of the different passengers as they realise the train is delayed and won’t be in time for Christmas in their respective cities. The follow up of the conductor going through the different cars places us all of a sudden in a sort of superior floor. We don’t know whether it’s a two-storey train or if Anderson traces a single horizontal line, folding it over itself in a rectangle. The voice of the train worker played by Adrien Brody doesn’t only accompany as a voice over the whole trip through each of the train’s cars while he announces the news. A speaker in each of the cars highlights the character’s sonic presence. The time lapse of a story that takes barely four minutes is placed right at the passing through a tunnel, as if its darkness could make us do this lap in time. Most of the ad is in fact narrated through almost imperceptible small visual details. Each passenger appears with a present showing the picture of the person or people they are meant for. With barely half a dozen characters, Anderson is able to trace a multicultural landscape in which the concept of family is declined in the most diverse forms: the middle-aged executive and the woman reading an Agatha Christie novel (no, it’s not Murder on the Orient Express) have thought about their children; the girl in the bathroom lives with her pet; while the skier has a girlfriend, and the unaccompanied under-aged contemplates the melancholic landscape waiting to be reunited with his mom. After the presentation, the camera is placed inside the train to follow the mysterious preparations of the character played by Brody. In the end, all these strangers come together to form a different kind of family and wish Merry Christmas to the child travelling by himself. That’s what the Christmas spirit is all about, according to Anderson and H&M, a luxurious seasons greetings, no doubt.