There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Yves Saint Laurent:
Yves Saint Laurent:
With Games People Play: New York, director James Ronald Whitney has gleefully ushered humanity into whatever circle of hell lies beyond The Anna Nicole Show. The documentary, which Whitney allegedly filmed to serve as the pilot of “America’s most uninhibited game show,” is the latest and most shameless addition to the reality genre, an experiment in which many carrots are dangled and much dignity is lost.
Not that this cinematic car wreck is completely without merit. During auditions in which Whitney cherry-picks three men and three women to compete for a $10,000 prize, you’ll be genuinely touched by contestants such as Keith, who shares how tough it is to be a kid with Tourette’s: “I’d get basketballs thrown at me.” And during the impromptu what-kind-of-tree-would-you-be interviews with the finalists, you’ll gain insight into what motivates their free-spirited behavior: “You’re baring your body, which is not your soul, but it’s more than a lot of people bare.”
Sadly, though, the strongest impression the documentary leaves you with is this: Even among beautiful people, there is good naked and bad naked. And Games People Play offers way too much of the latter.
Whitney begins with the long line of hopefuls who have answered his call for six actors aged 21 to 30 who are “in shape and attractive.” Immediately, the film becomes an exercise in cruelty, zeroing in on the overwhelming number of respondents who not only have rather elevated opinions of themselves but who also are strong reasons for staying the hell away from personal ads. Out of the great unwashed, the comeliest are invited to participate in photo shoots and screen tests that evaluate, respectively, their ability to sizzle and cry on demand. Then the Six are selected, and the games begin.
The contestants—Dani, Elisha, Sarah, Joshua, David, and Scott—win points by—what else?—participating in ridiculous contests. There’s Casting Couch, for example, in which the men pretend to audition actresses and see how far they’ll take a love scene. There’s also Naked Trio, in which the guys and gals are paired off and tasked with finding a stranger willing to come back to their hotel room—and do nothing but perform a little soft-shoe in the buff.
Fans of reality shows will likely be entertained by Whitney’s creation, which has already been turned into a franchise with impending Hollywood and Bible Belt versions. For the rest of us, though, there’s a little more going on here than the usual hoop-jumping by people desperate for their 15 minutes. And Whitney’s uneven tone makes it difficult to know whether he wants you to laugh at these folks or feel sorry for them.
The rather funny soundtrack, for example, includes a “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” sendup with the line “You’ll be acting, I’ll be lying/When I’m lying here with you” that provides some snide commentary on the Casting Couch sequence. But alternating with the game scenes is a whole lot of weepiness: From the opening screen tests to the in-room interviews—helmed by “judges” Jim Caruso and Dr. Gilda Carle, who asks such poignant questions as “How do you feel about faking?”—contestants confess atrocities from molestation to eating disorders. Some make you cringe; others, mostly the ones preceded by “I’ve never told anyone this”—and especially the one that ends with “I offered my butt as a peace offering”—you don’t quite believe.
Consistent, though, is the astonishing ease with which all of the participants, both the contestants and the unwitting boobs they solicit on the street, will shed their clothes and generally humiliate themselves when asked. Viewers should prepare themselves not only for naked seduction, but also for naked singing, naked dancing, and, God help us, naked cartwheels. There’s no soft focus or clever editing, either: The goods flop around the way nature intended. And Whitney, naturally, shows everything—though he and his editors sometimes can’t help but make fun. When Dr. Gilda asks Sarah, the daughter of a diplomat who was shot in front of her, what her dad would think of her participation, her response is predictable: “I’d think he’d be OK with it.” What accompanies that pronouncement, however, is not: her lying onstage in the buff, getting her toes sucked, screaming and pulling her hair in fake ecstasy.
In another realm, a more discriminating artist has devoted himself to clothing the masses instead of debasing them. At age 3, Yves Saint Laurent persuaded his aunt to change her dress before heading out to a big event, and it’s this precociousness that is the most interesting aspect of Yves Saint Laurent: His Life and Times, a short and spotty biography by filmmaker David Teboul.
Life and Times, which is being shown with another Teboul documentary, Yves Saint Laurent: 5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris, seems meant only for those already familiar with the reclusive designer. The director begins Saint Laurent’s story with a light touch, showing him in the present day viewing photographs from his “wonderful” childhood in Algeria and then detailing his preternatural ascent to the top of Christian Dior at age 21.
With the rest of the designer’s life, however, Teboul bobbles. Besides interviews with Saint Laurent, Teboul speaks with his mother; his lover and business partner, Pierre Bergé; and his “muses,” Loulou de la Falaise and Betty Catroux. But they’re introduced by name only, and their various relationships to Saint Laurent are hardly clear. Equally befuddling is their commentary, which forms the bulk of His Life and Times’ narrative: Each speaks generically about Saint Laurent’s talent and only cryptically about his more compelling “hard times,” or battles with depression. Bergé ends up being the most thorough source, but his fleeting mentions of Saint Laurent’s “narcissism,” “megalomania,” and stay in a mental hospital hardly give a satisfying overview of YSL’s dark side.
Saint Laurent doesn’t do a much better of job telling his own story. Though his soft-voiced, gentle demeanor is in itself captivating, he discusses little about his revolutionary approach to fashion, which included favoring pants on women and using black models on the runway before any other designer.
Teboul hits a low point about three-quarters of the way through His Life and Times by including a comment by an associate that Saint Laurent’s “style is probably how he made a name for himself.” That film, however, is a masterpiece next to 5 Avenue Marceau 75116 Paris. Opening with a chaotic scene of Catherine Deneuve trying on some of Saint Laurent’s suits, the film then moves to his design house, where the clothier and his deferential band of helpers are working on a collection.
For the next 80 or so minutes, Teboul’s camera doesn’t move. It’s unlikely that anyone besides devotees of Saint Laurent or aspiring designers will find the stuff of 5 Avenue Marceau as fascinating as Teboul does: Scenes consist of outfits getting constructed and models walking listlessly in front of Saint Laurent and his cohorts, who then mutter “Pretty,” “Ravishing,” and “Thank you” so much you start thinking that maybe these folks aren’t very creative after all.
Throughout, Saint Laurent barely changes his tone or temper—except for one instance in which he isn’t completely satisfied with a dress. “I almost cried!” his apparently hypersensitive assistant says—which is the only indication that anything upsetting occurred. Indeed, unless you’re gripped by the process of sewing on a button, Teboul’s explorations of artistry are about as exciting as watching paint dry. CP