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Advanced Style    cover image

Advanced Style 2014

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Bond/360, 42 Bond Street, Third Floor, New York, NY 10012 212.354.2650
Produced by Ari Seth Cohen
Directed by Lina Plioplyte
DVD, color, 72 min.

High School - General Adult
Aging, Beauty, Fashion Design, Self-Esteem, Women Artists

Date Entered: 01/14/2016

Reviewed by Wendy Highby, University of Northern Colorado

A beautifully exotic, birdlike creature’s photograph appears on the DVD cover of the documentary Advanced Style. The model is an aging woman, her boldly made-up face surrounded by feathers. The cover art accurately reflects the exotic viewpoint of the film. Due to its unconventionally positive attitude toward aging women, Advanced Style is radically countercultural. It begins with a young photographer, Ari Seth Cohen, approaching a stylishly dressed older woman on a busy Manhattan street and asking if he may photograph her. First it seems like a scam. But after a few minutes it becomes clear that Mr. Cohen genuinely admires older women, and his blog featuring their photos has a liberating and positive effect upon their lives. Cohen describes his models as women who “embrace their age” and use “the broad avenues and the streets” of New York City “as their runways,” displaying their fashion sense and elan.

The deft direction of Lina Plioplyte soon quells any lingering doubts that the film might have a superficial focus upon outward appearance. The narrative does not neglect the elements of inner style—the internal strength, panache and spirit--that manifest in one’s external bearing and garb. For instance, artist Ilona Royce Smithkin (the DVD cover model and one of seven fashionable seniors profiled in the film), says she “came into her own” late in life through her role as a teacher of painting. Unlike many media treatments of aging women, Plioplyte’s film it is not fixated on age-denying processes like botox treatments and plastic surgery. The positive emphasis is upon older women’s creativity, though the film is realistic and doesn’t shy away from openly discussing the various challenges of aging.

The documentary has a bit of a reality show feel to it, as it contains some aspects that are relatable and others not. Cohen claims his stylish models are always performative, that “every time they leave the house they look and feel their best.” Most women are not willing to be on stage 24-7. But this is not a “command” performance; it is a matter of choice. These style mavens are no slaves to fashion. The women of Advanced Style are vivacious, displaying brio, dynamism, and flair. And while most of us cannot afford to live in Manhattan or buy designer clothing, we can shop the flea markets for unexpected bargains and dare to choose wildly-colorful eyeglass frames for the lenses that mitigate our middle-aged presbyopia. Even women who don’t opt for high fashion, those who favor sensible shoes, can appreciate the film as a metaphor, a celebration of individuality and freely creative self-expression.

This is a nice companion to Albert Maysles’ Iris, also recently released (2014). In fact, designer Iris Apfel briefly appears in this film. The two could be paired as a double feature. First and foremost, Advanced Style is highly recommended to all women upon whom time is advancing. The documentary provides much-needed role models. Young people need to see the film as well as old, for we all see ourselves and our future in these audacious women who dare to be seen. Secondly, for educational purposes and curricular support, the film would augment the teaching of gerontology, sociology, psychology, gender/women’s studies, media/journalism, and urban studies courses.