Director Saam Farahmand Heats Up the Body Hair Debate in the First of Our Weekly #DefineBeauty Series
“One of the things I appreciate most about female beauty is what’s commonly appreciated the least,” says Saam Farahmand of his ode to body hair that launches NOWNESS’ new five-part series #DefineBeauty. “I wanted to find something about women that was almost unanimously disliked.” The transformation of the female form from hairless ideal to glorious natural state is set to the rousing score of Minnie Riperton’s “Les Fleurs.” “There was something so affecting about Minnie Riperton’s ability to breathe her gender—she speaks to female sexuality in a way that seems to exclude male consideration,” says the London-based filmmaker, known for his collaborations with The xx, Soulwax and Alexander McQueen. “It was important to immerse the viewer in the female form, an overwhelming landscape where the smallest shifts are amplified,” he adds, inspired by iconic nudes of Madonna by American photographer Lee Friedlander taken in 1979, the year he was born. The topic coincidentally reverberated across social media throughout the duration of the film’s development, from Madonna’s untamed underarms to Canadian artist Petra Collins’ bikini-line censorship by Instagram. “I need to be clear that this film is in no way reactionary,” says Farahmand. “It’s possible the subject resonates as people are always looking for a way to distinguish themselves from commonalities. If there is a genuine renaissance of female body hair in London, New York or Berlin, then like the modern man’s neo-beard, it will be abandoned when the first tufts start creeping out of glamour models’ armpits on reality TV shows.”
The next #DefineBeauty film premieres Tuesday May 13.
Liz Goldwyn Directs the Award-Winning Actor in a Dark Burlesque Portrait
Perched in a dreamy rose garden, a seductive and melancholic Jena Malone narrates this poetic 19th-century-inspired short by filmmaker and author Liz Goldwyn. Part of a series of works devoted to demystifying the sex industry, The Painted Lady casts the future Hunger Games: Catching Fire star—who made her name in Donnie Darko and Saved!—as a young woman who recalls an encounter with a lushly powdered call girl. As Malone's distinctive voice glides over the hazy footage, intercut shots transform her baby-faced ingénue into a defiant, colorfully made-up femme fatale against a floral backdrop. Only 21 when the vignette was filmed six years ago, the actor’s performance was informed by her own personal transformation at the time. “I was definitely a girl on the verge," explains Malone. "Liz had the sense to see the woman that was crystallizing inside of me. It felt comfortable and somewhat voyeuristic—like the woman I was to become was having a muse’s sitting with my younger self, asking her to remember things." Much like Goldwyn's acclaimed HBO documentary Pretty Things, an exploration of American Burlesque culture, The Painted Lady and its sister project, Sporting Guide, spark discussion of broad social issues, such how our view of the body impacts feminine identity. “In all the work that I do I'm promoting an intelligent conversation about sex,” the director explains. “Jena might look glamorous, but there's a lot of darkness in these stories.”
Photographer Bruce Weber Takes an Intimate and Inspiring Look at the Transgender Community
“These days everybody wants to be exactly like each other. I like people who are characters,” says Bruce Weber of shooting the models, makeup artists, students who each give their own personal testimony in Not Your Usual Bedtime Story. The short sees an assortment of individuals identifying as transgender—from makeup artist Niki M’nray to models Ines Rau and Gisele Xtravaganza—disclose their personal biographies with members of their friends and family, while clad in clothes from designers including Balenciaga and Saint Laurent Paris. Interspersed with clips of a young Dean Stockwell from 1948 film, The Boy With Green Hair, the film was made by the venerated photographer in collaboration with W magazine’s former Creative Director Dennis Freedman. The pair conceived the coinciding campaign Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters for New York department store Barneys, which feature's today's talking heads. Weber, whose work is synonymous with the all-American aesthetic defined in his early collaborations with brands like Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Abercrombie & Fitch, was enlisted in the hope of bringing the trials faced by the transgender community to the forefront of the now ever-prevalent LGBT debate. “It was very important for me to see how generous of spirit the support systems are,” he says. “It is not just about having a support system when you’re growing up, it is about having one for the rest of your life.”
What was behind the decision to shoot on location in New York?
Bruce Weber: We wanted to be able to show a bit of the city and allow the talent, many of whom have never been to New York City before, to see how beautiful Central Park is.
Can you tell us a little about the footage from The Boy with Green Hair that you included?
BW: This was a movie that really meant a lot to me as a kid. I was always drawing in the art department and reading books in the library instead of playing football so I knew how this kid felt. I feel that the wonderful thing about being different is it gives you character.
Do you think someone’s gender and identity affects the way you approach your subjects as a photographer and filmmaker?
BW: When I meet somebody, I’m not so interested in whether they’re a man or a woman—I’m interested in whether they have soul.