The documentary Advanced Style isn't at all subtle about its premise from the very moment it begins, but that's not a bad thing. Ari Seth Cohen, the man behind the blog that presents the world with stylish and creative older folks, introduces himself to people on the streets and compliments their outfits before asking to photograph them. From there it slides comfortably into exploring the lives of seven women, from ages 62 to 95, who each have their own unique aesthetic and the charisma and spirit to flaunt it.
In all fairness, I don't claim to know a lot about fashion, as I mostly stick to shopping for cute gender-neutral clothes on sale, but it's something so prevalent in art that it's hard not to see the appeal. Director Lina Plioplyte and Cohen are clearly interested in exploring exactly what makes these women so interested in the art of fashion; it's almost as though that's part of their mission: to remind the world that fashion absolutely is an art form.
With any form of art comes passionate and dedicated individuals, and who better to represent the pack than the women who have been developing their aesthetics for decades? While some of them have embraced fashion and other arts -- music, dance, and painting, among other things -- others have managed to find themselves at this point in their lives. They're comfortable with who they are and don't find a need to impress anyone but themselves.
As 91-year-old Ilona Smithkin says in the film, "I would call myself now an artist. At one time I had no self-confidence and I didn't think I could do anything, but seeing so much art around and seeing what I can do and what I've learned and represent: I am an artist and I am a teacher."
These are women who genuinely want to have an impact in the fashion industry, who want to teach young women how to embrace style and love themselves as much as they love their clothes, and those positive vibes resonate through Plioplyte's film. It's an excellent example of one art form complementing another, as well as proof that style and substance go hand in hand, even in documentary form -- not often the case with fashion-geared cinema, which sadly tends to lean toward highly-stylized fictional works that offer little more than brand promotion.
Of course, some of these women come off as reliant on an audience to make them feel good about themselves in their late age, something that has been strangely brought up as a complaint against the film, and why shouldn't they? But with so many films that show aging as something to fear and dread, it's refreshing to find a feature about real women that teaches people to embrace those so-called "golden years." To a certain extent, just as Cohen himself says, the film longs to present women who "challenge our notion of getting older. They really embrace their age, feel good about themselves, and every time they leave the house, they look and feel their best."
While the film could do without as much input from Cohen, who jumps into the frame often, it's hard to deny the impact his blog has had on the lives of all these women. Nevertheless, he sometimes tries to stifle the energy and dynamic that the women have going when it may result in conflict. As influential as he is to the project, it's something that draws away from the main focus of the film, which should always be the fascinating women it's capturing.
Setting that minor fault aside, Advanced Style is the kind of documentary about women in their later years that we need. It's a film that doesn't shy away from the downbeat and emotional when necessary, but chooses to revel in the beauty and grace of women who prove that fashion has no time limit. "I never wanted to look young, I wanted to look great," one woman states," and she'll be happy to know that she, and every woman she stands by proudly in this, couldn't look better.
Advanced Style will be showing Saturday, September 13 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, September 14 at 3 p.m. as part of the Miami Fashion Film Festival at Miami Beach Cinematheque this weekend. Tickets for the Saturday's screening cost $12 and are available through Eventbrite. The film also will screen at O Cinema Wynwood on October 3.
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