"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 9 April 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.

The Glamour Crisis

After the last Worst Dressed list has plopped out of the last catty critic's Inkjet, after the final cracks about Julia's extensions and Bjork's dress have been made, after the bitterest "Is that all there is?" post-mortem for the 73rd annual Academy Awards ceremony has left us all feeling sadder, wiser and vaguely cheated, it's time to confront a terrible truth: America is in the grip of one of the most crushing glamour emergencies in its history.

All this talk about a recession can't be the only cause of the glamour deficit. The 1930s saw hard times, but also lavish black-tie-and-tails musicals, the Gold Diggers series, and starlets so stunning they still have the power to make nominal he-men fall to pieces like goggle-eyed hairdressers. This glamour crunch feels more like the one this country experienced in the mid-1970s, when American celebrities ditched their designer-wear for causes and hit on issues instead of teenage girls. Are we as a nation headed for a time like 1975, when moviegoers had to co-ordinate their Social Security numbers with the date on the calendar to determine if they were even allowed to wait in line to see Diana Ross in Mahogany? Has the sun set on the Day the World Turned Day-Glo, or is this new downturn in the glamour-conomy (the g-conomy) just another bump in the long taupe night that fell conclusively when The Big Chill came out on DVD with separate-track voice-over from Kevin Costner as the corpse?

But let's collect ourselves, shall we? Above all, let's don't panic. Look what happened the last time people panicked: the Glamour Crisis of the '70s only abated with the release of Star Wars, a cinematic New Deal from which the g-conomy still hasn't fully recovered.

No, times like these demand a sober examination of the facts. And here's Exhibit A: The Oscars ceremony, telecast from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles to, they said, 800 million people. There she was, Julia Roberts, the grownup version of the high school tennis team's star player, acting like she was reading the phone book out loud and loving it, cracking herself up and laughing at the world until it seemed like chocolate milk might explode through her nose. She pushed her America's Sweetheart act to such patience-testing levels that we're hoping Renee Zellweger might seize this moment to wrest the title away from her. Having earlier in the evening zipped through the names of the nominees for Best Cinematographer like she'd been called to the stage from the line for the bathroom, she took command of her acceptance speech as if it were a State of the Union address. She came off as fatally corny as Dubya himself, an example of a kind of glitz so secure that it needs neither complete sentences nor brevity — a kind of glamour without suffering or reflection, i.e., not the real thing.

Of course mining the Academy Awards for unglamour is as easy as finding fool's gold. Russell Crowe's tux was remarkably awful even for Hollywood, the capital of bad tuxedos; his ensemble prompted rumors that Patrick Swayze had joined the Stray Cats. Other men who took the stage followed suit, loping toward their awards in outfits left over from the Mel Gibson version of Gunsmoke. Only Bjork (with swan), Jennifer Lopez (who appeared to be wearing 3-inch blonde eyelashes to go with her nipples), and possibly Danny DeVito (sunglasses and cruditŽs) emerged as glamorous figures. Penelope Cruz and Chow Yun-fat cut figures of classic glamour, but Juliette Binoche and Ashley Judd canceled them out by excessive-rizing like flappers who'd discovered the Gilded Age in their grandmothers' closets.

Binoche may be the emblem of the new unglamour. In the same way model Laetitia Casta got the job of portraying La France in official French representations of the country that invented haute couture, Chocolat has made Binoche the figurehead of Gallic style here. She's the one actress who's unthreatening enough to safely embody glamour in a nation that's wrapped the box all pretty but neglected to fill it with bonbons. Giving the box a name that everybody recognizes as the French word for chocolate is a ruse. Like substituting Chocolat for chocolate, calling something Le Car doesn't mean it isn't Le Beer Can. And did anybody notice it was Budweiser, least glamorous of all possible advertisers, who sponsored the Oscars this year? Sitting at home drinking Bud while the Oscars are on — that's American glamour. There's no French word for that. So what's with all the chocolat?

Let's face it: Chocolat, Exhibit B in today's Glamour Crisis, isn't the name of a movie, it's the name of a fudge shoppe in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. A sure sign of a nascent Glamour Crisis is the arrival of a new pretentiousness marked by a refusal to call American feel-good movies by their Anglo-Saxon names. For too long France has been a convenient straw man of a country, an easy target for American insecurity in the face of perceived continental Žlan, decadence, intelligence, or obscurity. Last Year at Marienbad served as the template for years. As the most stylish and difficult example of Art and Fashion in Cinema, it got turned into the stuff of a thousand perfume ads. But now France has become the country of bad comedies and the US is the place turning out, well, turning out movies with titles like Chocolat. Americans' view of themselves as delightfully wacky and unpretentious people who instinctively know chocolat from shinola — as people like Julia Roberts — is belied by what we see on movie screens. A French title equals romance, and in our action movies the rumblings are so thunderous that every cop picture is a remake of Apocalypse Now designed to crush us with its heavyosity. Which country is making the phony movies now? It's all so Chocolat, don't you think? It's not just corny, it's cornichon.

Successful glamour, the kind that's earned its put-on, doesn't show up too often in feel-good movies; it's more likely to be found in feel-wrecked movies like In the Mood for Love. But Hollywood, afraid to make you feel any real emotion but never afraid to bore you out of you skull, continues to confuse production value with every other kind of value. It used to be that in America when it was chocolate we called it chocolate, but when it was spinach sometimes we called it chocolat just to be polite, and then said to hell with it. Now we shovel money at it and call it "profoundly humanistic," as some critic had it on the poster for Chocolat. Glamour's down another hundred points this week. But don't panic. Hold onto your glamour stock and hope for a better day.

Courtesy of Slotcar Hatebath

contact us | home | letters | archive | search
©2001, Automatic Media, Inc., home of Plastic, FEED, Suck, and Altculture.