veemignon: (pollymaggoo)
[personal profile] veemignon
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I am an eye
I am a mechanical eye
I, a machine, am showing you a world
The likes of which, only I can see

-Dziga Vertov

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We live in a modern world, one where Andy Warhol's prediction of everyone having fifteen minutes of fame has come true. Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? is the quintessential film on the nature of fashion, the celebrity as a commodity, and the constant eyes, mechanical or organic, ever present in their gaze. I had been wanting to watch this film for a while since I had seen so many blogs rate this movie as one of their favorites. In the end, I had far too many screencaps for this post, as the film is stunningly beautiful; but I guess that's the nature of fashion as well. The film was directed by William Klein, a director who is often satirical and who was originally from America. But, like Jane Birkin, he's practically French now. This was Dorothy McGowan's first and only role, as the titular Polly Maggoo. She was also an in-demand model at the time but after the release of the film, she quit modeling and acting. Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? is philosophical, artistic, and thought-provoking. I thought I was going to watch a film simply about fashion, but now . . . this is probably one of my favorite films.

Like Degas' paintings of ballerinas backstage, Klein takes the fashion show backstage, where models are dressed in tin dresses. They're cut, bleeding and crying, but when they walk onto the catwalk, they float like Coco Chanel's angels. And the only time people give applause is when our Anna Wintour-type character decrees the show "magnificent." "He's recreated woman," she states. Pulled her from his rib. An architect of the abdomen. Behind this image of beauty is great chaos, though. The designer doesn't even seem to remember the names of his models. When asked about Polly Maggoo, he shrugs and looks around at the models' faces. This is the nature of a human being, or even the nature of fashion. One great image presented, hiding the chaos that lies beneath. This is what Gregoire and his film crew want to break into. They want to understand Polly Maggoo, but is it ever possible to completely understand a human being?

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The first question we should ask is, how do we view women? How does one view the female celebrity? Polly Maggoo is stuck in a love triangle, of sorts. Prince Igor sees her face in a magazine and wants her for his bride. Gregoire, while interviewing Polly, realizes that he's in love with her. And let's not forget all of the men on the street, who want to take Polly home to their apartment or take her out for coffee. These men seem to think that they own Polly, which is often seen in people's reaction to celebrities. They think that because they've seen that face so many times, somehow they know this person or that they own them. Polly is either seen as a slut or a child. Gregoire hopes to understand who she is, but Polly's a Cinderella-type figure in his fantasies and she turns into a blonde princess when he tells her how he feels. He doesn't see her as a human being, he sees her as the model. He tells her that all she'll worry about if the world ends is if her mascara is on right. Prince Igor sees Polly a Shirley Temple figure, dancing around and singing, dumb and vacant. But he also sees her in a bikini, chained down. The truth is, both men don't know the truth. Polly is actually quite intelligent and she knows what she's doing.

There's so much imagery with eyes, circles looking in on Polly and her activities. Whether they're a mechanical eye or a real eye, the gaze is still present. I was reminded of Simone de Beauvoir's theory of the gaze. In which a woman's body is followed by an invisible eye and she doesn't know that she is being watched. The question here is, who has the real power? The eyes watching or the woman who commands the attention? Polly Maggoo here commands the attention. She laughs at Gregoire's attention, amusing herself with how fun it will be. As for Igor, she constantly is walking away from him, whether intentional or not, I don't know, but in the end, Polly is the one who's laughing. That small circle of Polly though, that's the only information the populace will receive. It's the only information that a showed called Who Are You can collect and for a show trying to understand Polly Maggoo, they have nothing.

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What we want to get at here is how society views women and then, I think the nature of fashion will follow. Despite what we may think, how a woman dresses herself, with clothes or masks, dictates how society sees fashion as a whole. A vital question is asked: "Why do we care about fashion?" Does it make us feel better about ourselves? Does it make us feel sexy? Does it make us feel as if we're expressing ourselves? The man in the store says that what was once for the rich is now for teenagers. Another question is introduced, one about how old you have to be to care about fashion. These are all rather subjective questions but I think the answer offered here is that fashion creates one message about ourselves that we can sell to the masses. Even no fashion is fashion. It implies the message that one doesn't follow trends. It's our persona, in cotton and jersey knit fabric, fibers of identity that wear over time.

I am reminded of a time when my sister was complaining about a certain current pop star who once poisoned mayonnaise in a music video. She said that the singer was making us like the androgynous figure, that society doesn't want a real woman anymore, they want a sexless woman. What she didn't understand is that this is all cyclical. Polly tells Gregoire that the reason why fashion still exists is because it's constantly changing. If fashion stayed the same, it would have died out long ago. Instead, it's constantly reinventing, constantly adapting. Androgyny is appreciated at certain times; look at David Bowie and Annie Lennox, that was another time when androgyny was in fashion. But when they come back again, they're not exactly the same as they once were. The idea is reinvented.

In Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? we see the female figure imagined in several different ideals. As a child, as a slut, as a goddess, as death and the maiden, as a model, as Cinderella, and as a pop culture icon. But these are figments, they're not real women. A real woman is not entirely Cinderella, she's not entirely a child. Perhaps this is a commentary on men as well, what they believe the ideal woman is.

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Is fashion erotic? Is that what we're aiming for when we put on our high-heels and our make-up? Do we suffer through pain so a man will possibly look at us? The tale of Cinderella is related to Polly's life several times. A sociologist states that in the original tale, one of the ugly stepsisters cut off her toe so her foot would fit the shoe. When the prince took her away though, he saw the blood on her leg. Fashion captures sex and death. Life captures sex and death. What do we live for? Here, I think the tale of Cinderella goes further than just fashion, as the sociologist implies. The prince sees that the woman is bleeding and realizes she's a real woman. He takes her back to retrieve Cinderella, whose foot fits perfectly into the shoe. She doesn't bleed. She isn't real. I find it interesting that the french word for model is mannequin. Like Cinderella, they're not real women. The shoe fits because there's an image of perfection here. No one sees the backstage, where a woman might be cramming her foot into a shoe that is two times smaller. I guess the message of the Cinderella story then is that men don't want real women. They want the one who projects the image of perfection best.

And so when Gregoire tries to understand Polly, he's using childish schemes. He asks her what vegetable she'd like to be, what animal she'd like to be. He uses her face to determine her personality. We see this later, while Polly is washing her face, these ridiculous schemes used to easily understand someone. By her answers, Gregoire decides that Polly has many complexes (Sartre's "Childhood of a Leader" comes to mind here). He insists she has a castration complex, which is interesting. I remember when we used that theory of Freud's on the uncanny while reading E.T.A. Hoffman's "The Sandman." Freud says that having one's eyes taken away is like castration, thus why Nicholas relates having his eyes taken away to the time when his father died. Utilized here, is Klein saying that having our mechanical eyes taken away is a form of castration? Without television, without anonymous ogling, would we be castrated?

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We come to a point eventually where Gregoire reveals that he was Polly's prince the whole time. Prince Igor is the id, a childish prince who is allowed to have everything he wants and yet, he wants more. He wants Polly Maggoo. But because he is an id-like figure, he has the impetus to go after her. Gregoire is the super-ego, because it seems as if this is a world where the ego does not exist. Gregoire does everything you should do to attain a woman. He wants to get to know her, but his assumptions get in the way. In the end, he denies the fact that he's attracted to her, relying on his fantasies instead.

While Prince Igor is looking for Polly, he's stopped by her neighbor, a random encounter. He falls for her instantly and stays in her apartment. The song in the credits laments Polly's fate, that her evil neighbor got her prince instead. I would say that Polly and her neighbor are the same person as well. Everyone wants to go into Polly's apartment, which is a mess and is filled with images rather than important objects. The neighbor's apartment is never seen, nor is she ever given a name. No one wants to barge into her apartment, always Polly's. I think Polly's apartment is the persona apartment. Everyone wants that when in reality, she's just next door. A plain woman with no make-up, who grabs her prince. That's the real Polly.

Sidereal. Nothing is determined by the stars. It's randomness and chaos.

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