Sunday, January 18, 2015


Do you know where you're going to?
No, really, do you have a single clue?
That dress does nothing for you.
Do you know?
Seriously. Because i am completely lost here...
Ah, Mahogany, what a confused movie you are. Are you about feminism? Black empowerment? Class disparity? The perils of success? The shallowness of the fashion world? Or are you just a muddled vanity project based around Diana Ross' lust for glamour and Berry Gordy's lust for Diana Ross?

However, Mahogany opens far from the world of champagne and runways. Diana Ross lives in Chicago, specifically and pointedly in the ghetto but she loves dresses. She works as an assistant to the buyer in a department store by day and goes to design school at night. Walking home one evening, she is accosted by Lando Calrissian -- sorry, Billy Dee Williams -- a community activist.
It takes a special man to rock a turtleneck. Billy Dee Williams is that man.

Lando Calrissian hollers at Diana Ross about how she should care about gentrification through his bullhorn, she tells him to get bent. They meet again later, him still with the megaphone, her still with the attitude. She pours milk into his holler-horn, he thinks a bunch of construction workers did it, he gets into a fight, gets arrested, she bails him out with a bad check and they start dating. So that's how you get a man. And here i've been making with the cheeseburgers and the blowjobs when all i really needed to do was get a guy beaten up and arrested. Silly me. (Silly me, because i've known this for some time and i still keep doing it wrong.)
Meanwhile, Diana Ross is getting shit at design school...
... but Diana Ross ignores Tim Gunn's critique, as she is focused on becoming the sort of designer whose work will involve the words "Kabuki finale." And, of course, being Lando Calrissian's main lady, which involves going to sweet arcades (Arcades with air hockey and chandeliers!) and walking around looking at abandoned buildings and graffiti, talking about life, the universe and everything. (Add in a vodka gimlet or two and it's pretty much my dream date.)

Life seems to be rolling along until...
Hey! It's Crazy Anthony Perkins!

Crazy Anthony Perkins is a famous fashion photographer who has come to shoot clothes at the store where Diana Ross toils thanklessly for her bitch of a boss. Crazy Anthony Perkins doesn't like any of the skanks they have recruited as models and throws a big ol' famous fashion photographer hissy -- but then he sees Diana Ross and her he likes. (Sort of like Funny Face but... so not like Funny Face. Because those clothes were beautiful and Diana Ross ain't no black Audrey Hepburn. We all know that Lupita Nyong'o is black Audrey Hepburn, but that's really not relevant here...)
Then, Diana Ross and Lando Calrissian have a fight and justthen Crazy Anthony Curtis calls and invites Diana Ross to come model in Rome. 

In a rare moment of non-foolishness, she hops on that plane. Crazy Anthony Perkins' apartment has a shrine to Crystal, his last model. He even calls it "my shrine." No, couldn't possibly be any hazards in getting involved with this guy...
He then dubs Diana Ross "Mahogany" because "I give all of my creations the name of inanimate objects." (Nope, not a warning sign at all.) For towering hairdos, flowing chiffon and general ridiculousness, the "high fashion" montages in Mahogany are up there with the "Gillian Girl" commercials from Valley of the Dolls. And this is probably a good place to state that i enjoy both film for the same reason: Camp melodrama with costumes. I suppose you could also look at both movies as attempts to update the women's film for the feminist era -- updates which seemed to consist of making the career world seem even more fabulous and renouncing it even more difficult...

Naturally, Diana Ross becomes a supermodel with all the Euro-style partying down, huffing high-end dope and hanging with royalty while rocking fabulous outfits that entails. Much of the super-'70s "high fashion" was actually designed by Ross herself and, Jesus, it is terrible. Although on the scale of questionable decisions made by Berry Gordy because he was blinded by Diana Ross' magic box, it's really not that bad... compared to ignoring Marvin Gaye's career, destroying Florence Ballard and letting one of the greatest record labels of all time devolve into a train wreck. The unfortunate part is that there are some great clothes in Mahogany and Ross is stunning in them -- they're just not the ones she did. It's a little weird when the Bob Mackie designs are the restrained, classy looks in the picture.
Lando Calrissian tries to win Diana Ross back, but she is in too deep, y'all. Instead Diana fails to complete the act with Crazy Anthony Perkins, the insinuation that he's a repressed closet case who winds up hating all of his models because he can't get it up. (When you consider that Anthony Perkins actually was a homosexual by all reports, but then was happily married for twenty years to Berry Berenson, sister of supermodel Marisa Berenson --  well, weirdly appropriate.) 

 So Crazy Anthony Perkins goes really crazy and he and Diana Ross have a car accident, the most fabulous car accident since The Bad and the Beautiful. Classy Old Italian Count appears and carries Diana Ross off to his castle where not only will she recover from her injuries, but she will finally create her fashion line with his full backing. But does this make her happy?

Of course not. Diana Ross goes full diva fit, shrieking impossible demands at terrified underlings. But the runway show does come off -- you decide whether it should have or not. You can also amuse yourself by imagining the exact tone of voice Nina Garcia would use to question "the taste level" and what kind of insults Michael Kors would throw her way...
She looks like a slutty TGI Friday's hostess going to a NASA launch in Liberace's trash bag!

She's a smacked-out Ukranian shut-in wearing Merlin's bathrobe at Donna Summer's funeral!

She looks like an anorexic Sumo wrestler that went to a Bukkake party and rolled in Tang!

Amazingly, these kooky ensembles are well-received. But all Miss Ross can think of is Lando Calrissian's words: "You said they'd be left in the city under my supervision!" Whoops, sorry. Actually it was "Success ain't nothing without someone you love to share it with!" And you know what happens next...

Like so many women's movies of the past, our heroine fights tooth and nail for the career that she desires in a field she loves ... only to realize it's not nearly important as doing that special guy's laundry. And there is no way a lady can do laundry and have a career, so that paycheck, business card and self-worth that's not based solely on relationships with other people have got to go, y'all!

Actually, Mahogany is somewhat similar to Made in Paris, a '60s flick in which Ann-Margret rises to the top of the fashion world, only to give it all up for the right suburban station wagon (No, really, they drive a damn wood-paneled station wagon down the Champs-Elysees and she actually goes for it!). Except, of course, Made in Paris' ersatz Diors were way more chic than Mahogany's raised-by-wolves idea of high fashion and Ann-Margret is infinitely more endearing than Diana Ross. And more believable: Miss Ross deciding her career means nothing is about as likely as Rush Limbaugh joining the NOW and the NAACP. On the same day.
Oh, yes. Truly this is a woman devoid of personal ambition.

Although, upon reviewing Miss Ross' design portfolio, perhaps the lesson of Mahogany is to know when you're really, really bad at what you do and should just quit, go back to your hometown and get married... although we all know that wedded bliss with a community activist from Chicago will never lead a girl to a life of fabulous designer gowns.

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