Sunday, August 29, 2010

Day 143: Vague or Vogue?

Right at the very end of the documentary that is The September Issue, Anna Wintour, when asked about her positive qualities, offers up “decisiveness”.

Now, let’s be frank, I’m straying into territory here of which I know very little, in fact, I only got to see the docco by accident but am so glad that I did. With my babysitting charges in bed, the DVD’s du jour left for me to watch last night, were either A Single Man or the aforementioned piece; I just wasn’t up for Colin Firth on a Saturday night and instead opted for the film about which I knew hardly anything but of which had made many assumptions, that’s “contempt prior to investigation” for you.

The little that I thought I knew of Anna Wintour was this: she is the editor-in-chief of Vogue (USA), the woman with the fringed bob and oversized sunglasses that sits in the front row of every fashion show and she is preceded by a legendary status of poisonousness second only to Cruella de Vil (the cruel devil from 101 Dalmations who wants the puppy’s pelts for a fur coat).

I haven’t seen The Devil Wears Prada, the film based on the best-selling book by an ex-personal assistant of hers, but couldn’t fail to miss the publicity and reviews that compare the fictitious character of Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) with Vogue America’s British-born OBE awardee, nicknamed “Nuclear Wintour.” So this grab-bag of minor anecdotes and tittle-tattle is all I had to go on when R.J.Cutler’s film began.

Aside from the fact that I really enjoyed the film, what really surprised me, was how much I liked Anna Wintour. Maybe she put on her most personable of faces for the filming of the documentary but I could see none of the tantrums, screaming, slaughter or poison that I had anticipated. What I saw instead was a a poker face to beat all poker faces. I’m convinced that if I looked up “inscrutable” in the Oxford English Dictionary, it would define that one word with two more: “Anna Wintour”.

Every time galleys of a photo shoot or designs were put in front of her, to cast her eye over, I couldn’t tell whether the offerings pleased or displeased her, but I surely did admire that ruthless decisiveness of hers, and it obviously works. I remember a quote from my days in advertising which said that “no committee of men ever made a good decision” and I’ve always agreed with that. Even though the film industry is a collaborative venture, there’s still a necessity for single-minded vision and focussed purity of thought and idea.

Too many cooks do spoil a broth, too many ideas and writers do befog a film; I give you Baz Luhrmann’s Australia as evidence, on which there are four writing credits: Stuart Beattie (Pirates of the Caribbean), Ronald Harwood (The Pianist), Richard Flanagan (The Sound of One Hand Clapping), Baz (Moulin Rouge) and these are the writers credited; I suspect maybe more came and went. Australia is three stories and umpteen genres dog-legged into one and it shows.

Day #143 Tip: This is what I believe to be right and why I believe that to be so.
Yes, collaboration is vital but so is clarity of vision. The results of any creative pursuit can get lost and muddied when we don’t fight and argue for what we believe in. I’m not out to foster intransigence here, but to promote purpose and passion. In my treatment of The Age of Enlightenment there is” taboo” subject matter that could fall by the wayside as the treatment is reworked, if I allow myself to bang about like a dunny door in the wind and don’t hold fast, supporting what I believe in and what I have carefully constructed for this story.

My experience has been that if I’m arguing for the sake of arguing and being defensive about my work then it’s obvious and apparent to everyone, including myself. When I’m on solid ground that I believe in, it’s because I’m able to marshall my reasoned debate and put forward the motivations behind the creative solutions and executions that I’ve come up with. If I pitch these ideas with storytelling craft and eloquence then I inspire and others want to come along with me for the ride. When I get shifty, skittish and unsure of myself, everyone around me can smell that a mile off and swoop in for the kill.

Anna Wintour’s “decisiveness” is backed up with a seasoned nose for what works. I must cultivate such olfactory senses or get some very big sunglasses to hide my lyin’ eyes behind.

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