Saturday, November 22, 2014

Project Runway All-Stars S4 E4: Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve

This important scene is missing from the episode.
I've been praising the first three episodes for feeling like classic Project Runway. The judges have been on point, Alyssa Milano has been warm and witty, Zanna Roberts Rassi has been intelligent and quick. The episode before a break is usually some sort of amazing episode that expands the universe or is somehow enough to power the audience over the week.

Project Runway All-Stars believes this too. This is the final episode for a week, because next week is Thanksgiving. As a result, the producers decide to pull out all the stops. The designers are taken to the Hearst building to meet up with Nina Garcia (classic!). They are shown a bunch of jewelry from a famous nationwide jewel manufacturer (pretty!). They are given a challenge that involves their personal life (drama!). There is a guest judge from last season's winner (history!). Yet, all this obvious manipulation adds up to the worst episode of the season. 

Right out of the gate, something is off. The opening scenes pull a Project Runway and combine way too many elements at once. We're in the Hearst building to meet Nina Garcia. OK, so it's the Nina challenge. But, she's standing next to a bunch of jewelry. So, it's also the Jewelry challenge? No, the jewelry man is there just to show off the jewelry and announce that they are giving a decent amount of money to the winner ($10k). 

But, this is neither the typical Nina challenge nor the jewelry challenge. Instead, it is the personal challenge. In a naked bid to get the designers to do something other than be pleasant to each other, this week's challenge is to make an outfit based on the designers' past, present, and future romantic relationships. Thus, everybody is sent into a whirlwind of emotion. High, if you're engaged. Low if you're married recently single. 

On top of that, it's also a mandated party dress challenge, which apparently is code for no all black or all white dresses. Obviously they were eyeing the already eliminated Alexandria, and Kate "bridal dress" Pankoke when they made this limitation. Ultimately, though, its just yet another twist in an episode fraught with twists.

The requirement of basing the design on your romantic life was engineered for maximum emotions. You can practically hear the producers off screen saying, "No, tell us your whole story, and this time with feeling. They may or may not be holding a gun to the designers' heads. If they do, that threat is only slightly off screen.

In fact, when Zanna comes around, she, not so nakedly, implores the designers to pour their hearts out on screen. With Helen, she starts out, "Someone's in love." "Well...was." "TELL ME." By the time she gets to Portland, all politeness is done. "TELL ME YOUR STORY," she commands. And, when we get to Fabio, we have discussions on open relationships, whose details she announces to all the nobody that is listening to her.

The best part of this episode was the Kubrickian/military camerawork that happens when she gives her final speech. As she finishes up her speech, she is standing in the center of the screen between two tables. Deathrage is to her right (our left), and to the right of the screen is a shoe and a bunch of fabric. Red is in the foreground, and blue is in the background, with the carpet and walls, starting immediately behind her. This creates both a Workers vs Leader story, and a Passion vs Judge story. Simultaneously, the iconography of the framing is stolen from so many motivational speeches in films, especially sports and military ones. 

When the camera finally flips, the camera is behind Zanna's head, where there was no camera before. 9 of the 11 remaining designers - not shown: Jay and Sonjia - are all carefully placed, so none of their faces are hidden from view. Deathrage has been repositioned farther right, so that the mannequin is on display, while Fabio is now moved to create a straight line with Dimitry and Benjamin. They're posing, and almost everybody is looking at Zanna...except Justin and Portland who are blankly looking off screen. Even without their participation, this is a really solid example of Triumph of the Will cinematography that places Zanna as the central power focus.

The final sequence is a bunch of closeups of the designers facing forward, mostly staring at Zanna, and nodding silently. If this isn't inspired by Triumph of the Will, I don't know what is. This is one of my favorite all time sequences in Project Runway's history, and should be hailed as a masterpiece of editing and filmmaking. However, it also noted the artifice of the sequence, and one wonders how long the designers had to participate in this bullshit. This sequence was only 22 seconds long, but in those 22 seconds, it brought down the final wall of Project Runway and announced it as a constructed game show instead of a reality show.

Anyways, only one interesting thing happens between Zanna and the runway, and that's Sonjia somehow magically finding a cobalt blue fabric. Now, I say magically, but Sonjia said "Yesterday, I saw this beautiful cobalt blue fabric..." This blue fabric almost comes out of nowhere, or may have been gifted by a designer that didn't use it. The fabric pops up periodically throughout the episode. The first time is at Mood, where it is crumpled on the cut table. Somebody chose it, and I suspect that Egg was the one who saw it. Later, the fabric is seen on Egg's work table. It's in their row along the windows, and on a table with black shoes on it. Later, during her Zanna critique, the blue fabric is at the bottom of the screen on the table while they're fawning over her ugly green dress. It shares a space with some Orange fabric and more green fabric. As the models leave, the big ball of blue fabric is still in front of Egg in the background. 

But, in the next cut, Sonjia is already cutting the cobalt blue fabric, and the cobalt blue fabric is no longer in Egg's pile.  This is most noticeable in the "next day" workroom pan, where the fabric is no longer on Egg's table, either having been covered up, or having been given to Sonjia. 

In a season where everybody is so focused on helping each other, this is not surprising, nor even offensive. Except, Sonjia made that statement "Yesterday I saw this fabric." Why they didn't spend time on the negotiation, or how Sonjia got her hands on it is beyond me. But, the way they tell the story, the blue fabric came magically out of her ass. But, it's there.

So, I spent wayyyyyy too much time poring over this element, and it's time for runway (in which we'll get into the relationships).


Georgina Chapman is still absent, this time being replaced by her prime counterpart, Nina Garcia. We're also treated to a guest judge from Project Runway All Stars, Seth-Aaron Henderson. And, some fashion blogger.
  • Dimitry - So, I had a coworker who was obsessed with Italian style fashion. He was heterosexual, but he loved Ferraris, and eurotrash aesthetics. He also loved techno music. He would have loved this dress,w which is a great raver dress. But, it says nothing to me. It's very editorial, and thus very Nina. But, both the shape and the skirt are off-the-rack dullsville. Plus, the stiff bounce at the bottom looks cheap. Dimitry is single, not looking for love, not in love, nor wants to be. And, this dress shows it. It has no emotion in it, just cold hard flash.
  • Sonjia - This dress is so Sonjia. She took this gorgeous cutout lace fabric and crafted it into a one-piece hanging shirt. But, she cuts it very raw and jagged to match the overwrought, almost Gothic, patterning. Then she puts the afore-mentioned cobalt blue underneath it in a tight two piece which clashes so beautifully with the shirt that the shirt's shapelessness is ths given shape. It looks so easy and comfortable and free, yet it tells a story of intricacy and complication, and the layering of the blue gives a strong present to the intricate past. It's a gorgeous piece.
  • Benjamin - This dress is so fucking boring. It's a pretty dress in an ugly color with a crappy Handkerchief hemline...but a gorgeous back. What is with the season and having beautiful backs but ugly fronts? Anyways, Benjamin is single, and his breakup was bad, but that's all in the past now. Though, he hasn't put much interest into the present or future of his love life. Similarly, the shape and the front of the dress are boring, but the back is very precious and beautiful. 
  • Jay - I don't know if I love or hate this dress. Or, both. Jay uses a raspberry striped pattern to create chevrons and stripes in every imaginable angle, including horizontal and vertical. He outlines his pieces with a pink frosting ribbon. Nothing is symmetrical or centered. The outlines are also in such a way that the breast panel looks like it is popping out. Yet, it's really gorgeous and strange. It's complicated and chaotic, like his love life.
  • Fabio - He's in an open relationship. He sees life and love with a techno tribal fantasia. And, he found a fabric to make an OK dress out of it. But, then he layers it with light pink fabric vest panels that shouldn't go together, yet it does. And, in the back the panels are part of the dress. From the front it's two disparate pieces, but the back shows them all coming together as one. 
  • Kate - Married to her first love. Ready to settle down. So, she creates a Golden Girls outfit for Blanche. My grandmother would have loved this outfit, because she loved bing. But, the color is so old-fashioned and the slicked back blond hair and over done makeup makes the woman look like Jamie Lee Curtis from True Lies raided her grandma's closet. The slouchy back makes it look like it was made for a woman who was heftier than the model, and I don't even know what was going on with the single piece of fabric that was dangling. No.
  • Justin - He found the love of his life who learned ASL for him. So, he made a dress inspired by Alyssa's ladybug maternity dress from the beginning of the episode. It feels like a younger counterpart. He paints I Love You in sign forms, but he's safe so he doesn't get to explain that. Because, otherwise, it is just a very pretty party dress.
  • Portland - It's a very strange dress. She was married while on the show previously. Has gotten divorced. And is engaged now. Meanwhile, this dress is a raspberry lace in a usual silhouette. But, then she adds on poofs at the wrists and extra long sleeves, as well as copper strapping around the waist. Oh, right, she's a Steampunk girl. This is a steampunk inspired modern take on the old west. It's Portland.
  • Deathrage - He was just in a trainwreck breakup. And, his dress is a trainwreck. I could spend pages ripping it apart How nothing looks intentional, how the aymmetry does nothing for the silhouette or the body, how the slit up the dress is awful, how the weird way he did the waist is also asymmetrical and is counter to the bodice's asymmetry. But, knowing that he was in a trainwreck of a breakup and wanted to get that in dress form, then this dress is fucking perfect. It's an awful look, but it's solid for its intention.
  • Egg - It's a dress from the 1960s. 
  • Helen - She was put in the backburner. And, so, she made a dress that looks like it put the model in a bondage. The bust turned into a frown, and the arms looked strapped in at the side. It was emotionally sad and distraught. It was overworked.
The judging is so strange, but not incorrect. The judges go after Deathrage's chaos, but Deathrage doesn't sell his devastating relationship story to go with the dress. They correctly criticize everything, but the dress has an emotional story about a great relationship gone wrong. Nina criticizes Kate's dress comparing it to Dimitry's ultra-modern dress. Nina was so done with Kate. And, Kate's design really was boring.

The main story, however, is Nina gets her way no matter what. Much like we've been suspecting on the main Project Runway, Queen Nina is so forceful that her way is the primary way. Helen's tragic dress, which was a tragic masterpiece, was seconded to Sonjia's modern Gothic edginess. Which is sad, because Sonjia's was clearly the most innovative and the most radical.

In a season of Bravo-level Project Runway, the invasion of Lifetime Project Runway feels tragic. Suddenly, we have way too many elements, not enough time, producer manipulation, Queen Nina craziness, and terrible judging. Not to mention it had confusing product placement, and a weird story line that didn't make sense. Lame

Random Observations
  • Nina has the best sour but stern poker face. And, her flip of the hair is perfect.
  • Scott Davies, the jewelry dude, is amazingly stiff. Remember the gun being held off screen? I think this was also aimed at Mr. Davies. I expect these flat deliveries from the designers, but from the SVP of Marketing? Gorgeous.
  • Swatch is always sleeping. We need more active Swatch.
  • Interestingly, nobody gets free marketing at Project Runway. When Sonjia is joshing Kate about being married, she's drinking a Red Bull, whose logo has been covered by a post-it note.
  • Did I just compare Project Runway to a Nazi propagandist documentary? Yes, I did.
  • I know we haven't spent much time on sartorial choices, but what is with Deathrage's neckbeard? It's getting distracting again.
  • Alyssa looks like a disco ball in her runway outfit.
  • When Justin's model turns, you can see panties...
  • If you watched Project Runway: Threads, the winning kid also created the same neckline that Helen was so celebrated for.
  • "Whatever those relationship experiences were, at least you got a good dress out of it."

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