Monday, April 9, 2012

Face Facts

I recently saw, on a big screen at The Egyptian, the original Thomas Crown Affair, starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. While I was entertained and dazzled by the hijinks and romance, my biggest takeaway was Dunaway's face in epic closeups: It was pockmarked by chicken pox scars -- something you'd never, ever see today, in the era of HD TV -- and yet still beautiful.  Moreso, for its humanity.

Dame Maggie, Wrinkled Goddess
My friend and colleague Cinque had an opposite, but related, reaction when watching PBS's Downton Abbey: "what American actress would let herself age like Maggie Smith? Name one!" He loved how wrinkled and jowly Smith was as the Dowager Countess [right].

The advent of HDTV has made even younger people Botox and "fill" every facial line -- most sitcoms now look peopled with Barbie dolls.

I recently saw the movie Friends with Kids and couldn't ever fully engage because I kept being distracted by the obvious facial work undergone by the star, Jennifer Westfeldt [left]. Born in 1970, Westfeldt -- who also wrote and directed -- goes through the entire movie without her forehead ever moving. She looks nothing like her real self as seen in Kissing Jessica Stein. 

Fittingly, when the Today show did a piece attacking actress plastic surgery centered on the admission and regret of actress Emmanuelle Béart, the program showed a "before surgery" photo of Dirty Dancing actress Jennifer Grey -- and her "after" photo was mistakenly one of Westfeldt. They are all starting to look the same, when what we liked about them in the first place was their distinctiveness.

Dunaway, so iconically gorgeous in Bonnie and Clyde, Network, Chinatown, and Three Days of the Condor, is one of the stars whose face is no longer quite her own. Last summer, at age 70, she was awarded by a reader poll "Worst Plastic Surgery" at the Cannes Film Festival.  [Below] 
Society itself is really to blame, if someone who was comfortable with being an imperfect 26 year old feels obliged to mess with her earned septuagenarian visage.

This was reinforced today when actress Ashley Judd, whose "facial puffiness" in recent public appearances fell under massive international scrutiny, felt compelled to publish a retort in The Daily Beast:

I choose to address it because the conversation was pointedly nasty, gendered, and misogynistic and embodies what all girls and women in our culture, to a greater or lesser degree, endure every day, in ways both outrageous and subtle. The assault on our body image, the hypersexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about.
The fact that it's Ashley who's taking this on -- and being hyperverbal and brainiac about it -- doesn't surprise me.

I met Ashley Judd in January, 1993., when she was just 24 years old, and even then she was a force to be reckoned with.  I was an editor at Vogue at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, there to scout films and talent for coverage. I went to a screening of a little indy movie called Ruby In Paradise, and like many of my fellow audience members was mesmerized with her assured performance. It would go on to win the Grand Jury Prize, win Judd an Indy Spirit Award and launch a feature film career.

But after the screening and Q&A, the theater emptied out and its star found herself stranded on the sidewalk, and  I ended up giving her a ride back into town.  I found Ashley guileless, thoughtful and grounded, especially impressive since she came from a family that seemed showbiz-nutty (her older sister and divorcee mom were already the famous singing duo The Judds).

She's one of the few people I wrote profiles of that I felt had enough going on to write about them twice --  I did a one-page profile in Vogue, and then, five years later, a cover for Cosmo's "Fun Fearless Female" edition.  And here's what I remember: both times, she wrote me hand-written thank you notes that were polite, articulate, and heartfelt. That never happened.

So it hit home when I read in her piece that she has since decided that even positive articles are bullshit:
 I arrived at this belief after first, when I began working as an actor 18 years ago, reading everything. I evolved into selecting only the “good” pieces to read. Over time, I matured into the understanding that good and bad are equally fanciful interpretations. I do not want to give my power, my self-esteem, or my autonomy, to any person, place, or thing outside myself. I thus abstain from all media about myself. 
This clearly can't be true, since this hubbub about her puffy face -- which she ascribes to steroids -- pierced her enough to write. But thank you Ashley for standing up.  I have had loved ones deal with this medically induced alteration and the social teasing that comes with it. I can't imagine the scrutiny all actresses undergo as they are stared at by executives, directors and co-stars, much less their general public. Ashley asks:
What is the gloating about? What is the condemnation about? What is the self-righteous alleged “all knowing” stance of the media about? How does this symbolize constraints on girls and women, and encroach on our right to be simply as we are, at any given moment? How can we as individuals in our private lives make adjustments that support us in shedding unconscious actions, internalized beliefs, and fears about our worthiness, that perpetuate such meanness? 
Maybe everyone should be forced to (re-) watch Thomas Crown Affair and realize that true beauty is always better than artificial perfection.

UPDATE: Lara Flynn Boyle, what have you done? 


Marci Liroff said...

Well done David!

Robert said...

Terrific piece, David!

jane s said...

thank you!

David Handelman said...

David Handelman said...

New York magazine weighs in with a think piece here, saying Judd has been deft at not making the conversation about her.

David Handelman said...

Here's how Lara Flynn Boyle ruined herself:

Eliza said...

The other thing about Faye Dunaway and actresses of her time - well really all the way into the '80's - was that they were allowed to be flat-chested if that's what they were. The iconic still of Dunaway leaning against the car in Bonnie and Clyde is totally sexy, but she's modestly endowed. And she's not wearing the Pretend Breast Bra or Gel Things that would be mandatory today. Same with Ali McGraw, Sissy Spacek, and on and on. I date the change to Compulsory Exact Same Breasts As Everyone Else to 1994, the same year that certain restrictions on interstate banking were lifted. Aha!

Marisa said...

Interesting that you should mention Dunaway from the mid-seventies, but no comment on all the work she's had done since then that completely changed her face.

Back in the 70's she had virtually no eyelids, she looked 10 years older than her age. Suddenly about 10-12 years later, her eyelids appear and her mouth is wider (new teeth) and her lips much more full.