Safe But Sound: Art & Models in New Documentaries

By mattdentler | Matt Dentler's Blog August 26, 2009 at 2:15AM

Safe But Sound: Art & Models in New Documentaries
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There are two documentaries out this month that deserve your attention not only as engaging pieces of nonfiction filmmaking, but also as portraits of popular culture's superficial style. Doug Pray's Art & Copy (out now in select theaters) may lack an objectivity critical analysis of modern advertising, but it serves as a brisk tour through some of the most iconic TV and print advertisements of the last 50 years. Starting with the "real Mad Men," Pray's film looks at the mad men and women who helped develop an industry that is going through something of a crisis. Again, the documentary doesn't really dwell on advertising's current drought in relevance (what with DVR, the extinction of print media, etc.) but the tone and structure is pleasant enough to keep you focused on the entertaining anecdotes and war stories. Here's the Art & Copy trailer:


Also not taking any risks to soil its subjects, but nonetheless still engrossing, RJ Cutler's The September Issue (a limited release begins this weekend) is a portrait of legendary Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour during the publication of her magazine's immensely important Fall fashion installment. Wintour's reputation as an "ice queen" has become even more known, thanks to the book and film The Devil Wears Prada. And, while there are occasional references to her isolated existence, the documentary is more carefree than investigative. There's pressure to deliver, as well as conflicts within the editorial offices, and Cutler (a skilled chronicler of staff turmoil) has the camera rolling at all times. More day-in-the-life than hard expose, The September Issue proves that the fashion world can still be cruel and skin deep. The film is funny, beautiful, and easy on the eyes. Here's the trailer:


These two professions on display, the advertising execs and the magazine editors, represent something more similar than just an appreciation of style. In both films, there's hardly anyone younger than 50 in a position of authority. It's telling, as both advertising and print publications are currently suffering a massive readjustment. The September Issue was filmed in 2007, which explains why selling ad pages doesn't seem too tough and why the editors can gallop around the globe for a simple photo shoot. I have a feeling this year's Fall fashion issue isn't embracing itself with the same ease. The fact of the matter is, these two documentaries are not only good films, but also time capsules. In 25 years, movie audiences probably won't have the same nostalgia for classic TV commercials (will we have TV commercials in 2030?). In 25 years, who knows if editing a glossy print magazine will have the same amount of drama (or if they will even exist). These are some of the elements that make The September Issue and Art & Copy engaging to watch. What's more, if you really want a rare experience, then see a documentary in a commercial movie theater.