Some colleagues and I recently went to a preview of Advanced Style, a new documentary that examines the lives of seven New Yorkers aged 62 to 95, whose eclectic personal style and indomitable spirit have shaped their attitudes to ageing.
The film is based on Ari Seth Cohen’s well-known blog of the same name, which features photos and interviews of ‘stylish seniors’ and has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Vogue, and Forbes magazine, as well as all over the Internet.
I had seen the blog and I couldn’t help but love it – the women Cohen photographs are impossibly glamorous, eccentric and beautiful and they offer an overwhelmingly positive view of ageing.
Of course, they are hardly representative of older women in the US or in the UK because they live very comfortably and can afford to spend a lot of their money on designer clothing (even if it is vintage), but they do epitomize a certain type of well-heeled, artistically-inclined older New Yorker whom one is almost certain never to meet…
From a glamorous 81-year-old dancer, to a 93-year-old West Village artist known for her colourful outfits and red eyelashes that she crafts from her own hair (yes really), the film follows these women’s daily adventures of living in the city, capturing their love of style and strong sense of self and independence.
The plot is very loose and mainly consists of short interviews with the women at home with their partners, at work and out and about on the street, following a vague arc of them gradually finding themselves in a position of new-found fame and cultural influence as Cohen’s blog comes to the attention of the international fashion community.
Each woman offers their own unique perspective on overcoming life’s obstacles with style and grace, delivering some killer one-liners such as:
“I don’t buy green bananas anymore”
“Above the waist I’m fine; below the waist it’s don’t ask, don’t tell”
“I was born happy! I was a 10 pound baby”
“How old am I? Between 50 and dead…”
What’s great about the film is that it paints colourful, funny and intimate portraits of independent, stylish older women who are ostensibly challenging conventional ideas about beauty, growing old, and our obsession with youth. True, these women are in a minority – they do not need social care, nor are they living in particularly cold homes or struggling on a low income – but the film does not pretend otherwise.
However what the film does do, which is realistic, is touch on their thoughts about their own mortality – for example, one woman talks openly about a serious operation she was lucky to recover from, another admits that she is virtually blind and the eldest, at 95, talks frankly about memory loss on the eve of her birthday. Death is not absent from the film either, and when it does occur it is treated in a way that is consistent with both the women’s attitudes and the way the film has been made.
So if you decide to go and see the film, take it for what it is – a positive statement about ageing from women who have found their passion for fashion in later life. And what’s wrong with that?
Advanced Style is on general release from 9 May 2014. Find out where it’s being screened in the UK here
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