The Martha’s Vineyard Film Society (MVFS) is coordinating with Martha’s Vineyard Fashion Week to show three documentaries about the fashion industry at the Island’s new Film Center in Vineyard Haven.
The award-winning “Bill Cunningham New York,” played on September 18; “Vidal Sassoon the Movie,” about the legendary hairdresser, plays tonight, Thursday, Sept. 20; and “God Save My Shoes,” which offers everything you may or may not want to know about women’s high-heel shoes, runs on Friday, Sept. 21.
That nonsensical title, “God Save My Shoes,” is a giveaway to this documentary’s somewhat random and frivolous approach to female consumer obsession. Its audience will be the Island’s young women, while the rest of us may scratch our heads in bewilderment. Forget about bunions, corns, plantar fasciitis, neuromas, or sprained ankles caused by ill-fitting, too-high-heeled shoes.
Director Julie Berasa interviews one woman, a professional poker player, who claims to have 1,400 pairs of shoes stowed in three separate closets. She describes them as like candy. “God Save My Shoes” forgets to tell us how many were owned by Imelda Marcos, a well-known shoe collector.
The movie interviews what appears to be an assortment of people chosen at random to provide cute sound bites. One woman gives her shoes names. The camera watches drag queen Shequida get dressed and comment on the importance of the high heel. Another interviewee buys hers a size or two bigger because someone told her motherhood makes your feet larger.
The film focuses less on a serious analysis of women’s shoes as part of material culture than on the glam of socioeconomic class that can afford price tags of up to $10,000, and the age group that embraced TV’s “Sex and the City” as providing their role models.
Interesting factoids do pop up here and there. American women buy on average seven pairs of shoes a year. One expert suggests high heels provide a quick fashion fix for the recession, although at the prices mentioned, that seems unlikely. Fairy tales like “Cinderella” feed the female obsession with shoes, and high heels signified social status for both men and women in Western culture as early as the 16th century. In case you never noticed, Barbie dolls have feet shaped for high heels only.
The movie’s scatter-shot analysis tells us how turn-of-the-century shoes were designed to conceal. Then the flappers and Betty Boop showed up. Stilettos came into fashion in the 50s. The women’s movement of the 70s brought a temporary pause to the high-hell obsession.
When designers like Manolo Blahnik are creating them, shoes sometimes look like works of art. More importantly, the movie tells us they telegraph extreme femininity. Classes are available on how to walk in extreme heels that range from three to five inches, and describe toning exercises to help wearers manage the off-balance posture these instruments of torture require. Believe or not, some women line up for races in high heels.
Eventually “God Save My Shoes” slips into an extended soft porn riff with a discussion of shoes as erotica, illustrated by lots of suggestive images of provocatively posed young women — wearing high heels, of course. These accessories accentuate the butt and the bust, signaling sexual availability, maybe even sexual prey status, since women wearing them certainly can’t run away. “Toe cleavage” and “bondage straps” are among the tamer terms applied to shoe styles. In case you’re interested, the movie says foot fetishists get their charge mostly from high heels.
Do high heels represent power? “God Save My Shoes” can’t make up its mind about that. They may make women look taller, but paradoxically they also make them more sexily vulnerable.
High fashion deserves serious treatment; it can achieve the status of art. If “God Save My Shoes” had spent more time taking shoes seriously or examining them as art, it might have more to offer. If you decide to see this movie, enjoy the new, state-of-the-art Film Center, and approach the film with a sense of humor as an entertaining piece of fluff.
“Vidal Sassoon the Movie,” Thursday, Sept. 20, 7:30 pm, MV Film Center, Tisbury Marketplace, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 for MVFS members.
“God Save My Shoes,” Friday, Sept. 21, 7:30 pm, MV Film Center, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 for MVFS members. For information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.