Friday, March 03, 2006

UNLUCKY 13 - A NOVEL IN PROGRESS

Here is the exclusive recap from BPR's own "Resident Philosopher," Dr. Don!

THE 13TH (UNINVITED) GUEST ARRIVES AT THE PARTY

There were wonderful touches throughoout this episode, many quotable remarks, many intimate windows that opened to reveal previously-hidden, endearing personality quirks and flashes of intelligence but in the end they were all filler, all preamble, all (however touching or traumatic) diversionary.

The REAL drama began more than halfway through the show. For when the trip finally got to the "surprise 13th", the designers' trial-by-fire (think the Labours of Hercules here), everything suddenly, effortlessly fell into place. Finally you could see the rationale behind the whole season--that every twist annd turn, evey triumph and stumbled step along the path (and there were many) was an integral part of an inevitable journey that brought them to this particular moment, to this particular place of extreme testing of both their individual characters and their elemental skills as designers, just as fate brought Oedipus, however he struggled to avoid it, to the lonely crossroads where he would kill his father. No one, fortunately, would be killed, however, except the demons of their own self-doubts.

Daniel vocalized their internal stress, breaking points reached, and sense of unfairness, betrayal even (that they all must have been feeling at this point) best. So modest and silent all season but noticably more testy, confrontive and mouthy in recent episodes, he had become the greek chorus, the channel of their Collective Unconscious.
"They were going to rain on our parade. You could just tell."
And later: "It was a ball of emotions. Two days left before the show, and they drop the bomb." All the earlier crises and meltdowns we've shared on PR this season
pale in comparision with this one.

But first let me capsulize the episode up to the surprising and alarming arrival of "the 13th guest", when in my opinion, PR entered new and, at least emotionally, uncharted territory even by its own standards.
Tim does his signature visitations, packing his charm in his luggage and enplaning crosscountry, LA to Houston and back to New York.
Santino's was the most revelatory, almost confessional. Certainly none of the other designers have ever exposed themselves and opened up their private psychic wounds to the degree Santino did (and probably never will). It is sometimes almost too painful to watch and, almost mysteriously, just as necessary in order to understand his dynamic, which has become, wisely or unwisely, like it or not, the engine that runs the show.
"I came across as arrogant, a crazy egomaniac --the Santino Rice you love to hate, but underneath I have major insecurity."
You hear fragments torn from his in-depth conversations with Tim of how difficult his life has been, and he adds that he's "thought all these criticisms he'll get from other people a hundred times himself". Then he finishes with "I see people give up their dreams every day, and I'm not ever going to do that. Really. I'll die trying." And you believe him. (By the way, Santino twice speaks of death, if only metaphorically, in this episode.) I feel that he has undergone a death-and-rebirth transformation this last year, and this is probably not the first time in his life, nor last either. Tim is unusually supportive, encouraging, almost congratulatory of Santino's work. "You're taking a risk, which I applaud. It's not safe--and there's an element of refinement I didn't see before."
"It's great work. You should feel very proud." Santino, the bad boy, has done his "detox" and is finally going straight.
(Quotes are not always verbatim, they come so fast, and are sometimes hobbled together.)

Continued in the comments section....

15 comments:

Laura K said...

...continued:

Tim's visit with Chloe, as a preview of FW, was a little unsettled. She had only a few pieces finished and no sketches. "I don't do sketches, and I don't have a concept (holding the collection together). It's just developing organically." Tim was concerned, but peased with the few pieces that she did have ready to show him. "It's all about the fabric," he enthused. (Personal Confession: I absolutely love it when Tim says, usually after some contemplation aka confusion. "I get it". It's one of my absolute, "you can take it to the bank" PR highs. It's so little but so dense with layers and layers of meaning, and so richly seasoned with
his special patentable brand of wisdom.)
"Tim was concerned I didn't have a theme, but I wasn't nervous. Then after he left, I seriously didn't leave the garage (her workspace) for two months."

It was only when Tim got to Daniel's that, surprisingly, given Daniel's championship season and the unmistakable Golden Boy aura he'd acquired in recent episodes that Tim's worry wrinkle made its first public appearance during these coast-to-coast perambulations. Without being overtly critical (if there's anything that Tim isn't. it's "overt"), indeed through his telltale body language and what he left unsaid alone, you could palpably feel his apprehension. Patiently but with something like underlying unease he looked at Daniel's finished work and pristine elegant sketches, notably without putting his unqualified seal of approval on them. Then they went off to shop for an upscale, beautifully fitted jacket for Daniel's upcoming FW debut.

Pick up the thread five days before February 10th, the day FW had assigned to the PR show. They arrive somewhat in reverse order of their departure months earlier from the Atlas. A spatial, almost palatial suite at the Westin at Times Square awaits them. Daniel and Chloe, too cute for words, snuggling side by side in bed, virginal of course, under an enormous voluminous quilt, catch up and share apprehension over Santino's imminent arrival. By this time they've seen most of the episodes, if not all, including Santino's most egregious transgressions, especially the private on-camera "confessions" privately shot by the producers, in which Santino's stinging tongue that became known for its taking no prisioners hissed and flicked like a cobra rising rather obscenely from its iconic basket. The camera lens itself, and the attention that it seemed to confer, was usually enough stimulus to raise his cobra from its nest to indiscriminately assassinate, with words far more poisonous than polished, his fellow designers. It's pure standup, pure performance art, pure (or rather impure in this case), what is delicately called in porn, "a solo act". If he didn't hunger for attention, or more accurately affection, he wouldn't fall fot it the way that he does. Start the cameras rolling, and Presto! Santino's alter ego puts in an appeaarance.

"I'm exhausted. I haven't slept in two days." Then Chloe adds: " And I'm apprehensive about seeing Santino. I was pissed off for months about his calling me a pattern-maker."
'No matter how much Santino pisses me off, his arrogance and all, I'm looking forward to his collection at FW," Daniel counters. Later he would add," I think it's been quite a sobering event for Santino (being in PR, especially the massive critical backlash). Whether it's longterm or shortterm we'll all have to wait amd see."

The Santino arrives. There's a mini/thankfully lowkey confrontation, focused primarily on Chloe and Santino ("I'm feeling a lot of animosity from Chloe. I've read a lot of negative things that she's said about me"), after which they seem to gradually put their differencees behind them, if only because it makes pragmatic sense.There's enough tension and distraction already built into the project, God knows. And Santino's hilarious, if all too "here we go again" comment "I have a whole lot of work to do. I'll probably be sewing until my models go out on the runway. I can sleep when I die" must have gone a long way to ease tension and repair bruised egos. They all seemed to instinctively know (probably based on the bad example of FW discord on Season One, that any displays of attitude, strong riptides of negative emotions or recriminations just wouldn't be helpful to any of them. From then forward it seemed the three bonded as people who are brought together in a common cause will, strangers even who might have nothing or little in comon otherwise. Then again these guys DO: a whole lifetime of dreams, fantasies, passions as well as unique specialized skills lying mere millemeters under a thin veneer of annoying personal differences. Almost at once their work environment became relatively collegial, even at times revealing compassion toward each other's stuggles. Those struggles, of course, were clearly not with each other but, common to them all, with the familiar demons of self-doubt, exhaustion and the unforgiving tyrrany of the clock. The currrent smoothed out, the climate grown now harmonious, they begin the high adrenaline rush toward Friday the 10th. Tim has promised them an audience of 1000, as if their nerves aren't frayed enough already and their bodies careenning into the fourth gear of stress.

Only four days left. They're introduced to their new workspace, unpack their garments (tempted to look at each others work but resisting), Tim does a first view. Again he expresses pleasure with Santino's collection, amazement at Chloe's which he's essentially seeing for the first time, and, ominousy, reservations with Daniel's, which by this time is, quite understandably, beginning to wear on Daniel, even
seriously undermine his usual high spirits, clear focus and easy confidence.
Whereas earlier he had shared "I love my life right now, and I think I have a very good chance of winning", now it's "As I'm showing Tim my collection, I'm wondering why Tim isn't saying more. Frankly I was offended." Tim, visibly underwhelmed, concerned even, "wants to see how it looks on the models". They go through two garments without any resolution until Daniel has a discrete "Daniell V" meltdown (if you blinked, you missed it): "This is what I mean. He doesn't say anything," he confides to his model.

They begin the several days daunting work required to finish their collections--the hemming, sewing on buttons, last minute miniscule adjustment: in other words, the nuts-and-bolts of preparing any collection for the FW piranhas.

Especially insightful was the visit to MKors office/showroom. These visits, that expose Michael as a caring human being generously sharing his wisdom and wide spectrum of experience have increasingly become highlights of PR season II that I cherish. His impassioned advice about choosing models was especially instructive: "Don't settle. Get it perfect." He makes it sound like a mantra, and it is. The problem: there are 17 other things that you're simultaneously "trying to get perfect". Caution:Overload ahead.

I loved the section where the designers go through resumes and audition the available model pool:
Chloe wants "sexier, curvier, girls who have chests(!)" with the hair "soft, a little more pouf";
Daniel's looking for "fresh-faced, sexy but not vulgar" with hair and makeup "sopisticated, young";
whereas Santino's focus is on "high energy, models who exude confidence", hair "with a lot of bounce, nothing stiff".

Day Four. Day Three. Day Two: the Rendezvous with Fate arrives.
The countdown continues. The clock is inexorably ticking away. All the designers are physically and emotionally stretched wafer thin, near the breaking point but tenuously hanging in there, just...then... "Two day before the show and they drop the bomb!!!!!" BOOM.
Tim, this time with Heidi, his fetching coconspirator in tow, arrives with the ***Coup de Gras***, delivered, of course, with characteristic and exemplary charm and finesse. It begins with the dreaded "Gather round, I have news for you"' (At that point he could as likely have continued "You're all going to be shot at dawn" as the news, threat, insult he was about to deliver.) They approach cautiously like sleepwalkers, zombies, prisoners moving through a minefield. "You have twelve looks now. You have to create a 13th look that will be shown with the rest of your collection at FW."

Death Rays zigzag through the room. Emotional paralysis. The clock stops ticking, or seems to. The resident roaches hold their breath. In the stunned silence Chloe leans against Daniel and cries quietly. (Santino later: "Chloe was distraught, she was ready to throw in the towel.")
Tableau of three designers posed for a funeral, possibly their own.

Then they trot in the "circus clowns" (There have to be clowns): the 13 eliminated designers. (13 again,hummmm!)
Pall bearers, maybe. But wait, it seems there's method to the producer's madness after all, however certifiably psychotic, not to mention sadistic their scheme seems at first glance (about now I'm beginning to wonder just HOW good the ratings for Andrae's meltdown were): the designers are allowed to choose one of the eliminati each as assistants. Names are drawn: Daniel chooses Nick, Santino fingers Andrae, and Chloe favours "Miss Diana". Bravo, producers, so frequently maligned in the past. What an ingenious plot to bring back three popular and talented designers whose absence many have mourned.
No matter Daniel's "I really just wanted to punch someone. A lot of different emotions rolled into one ball of sh*t.", or Santino's "If I'd have had a brain aneurysm right then I wouldn't have been surprised", or Chloe's "I couldn't design another look, if my life depended on it."

Get up off the floor, girl. Don't you know that there's much more than your life at stake here. THERE'S FASHION WEEK!!! Why was the refrain "Lighen up it's just Fashion" playing in my brain? Where was that rascal, the reprobate old song-and-dance man Santino when you really needed him. Oh, I forgot, he's standing in front of the firing squad with the others.

I, being shamelessly, incurably empathetic (I really should start taking some kind of medication), along with thousands of other fans across the country, began hyperventilating, cursing at the tv screen and was spiraling toward cardiac arrest.
Not to worry. There was no time for any of that nonsense. The mantra du jour was "hasten the pace". Those brilliant rascally producers.

The deal: $250 to spend, 30 minutes to "caucus" (don't you just love Tim's suave elegant vocabulary, especially when there's blood all over the stage) "to make some deft , strategic design decisions", then the classic "you'll have one hour to go shopping". The designers brainstorm, that is they would brainstorm if they weren't pretty nearly braindead by now. Daniel opts for "fun, whimsy"; Chloe envisions "a young, flirty "baby-doll" dress"; and poor Santino "I went out shopping without knowing what I was looking for". Andrae:You'll get an idea when you see the fabrics. You always do." Santino: "Look at my eyes. There's nothing going on inside my brain." At Mood Andrae suggests they design a coat, and Tim advises "Don't overthink this". That one's a real cliffhanger.

"All my creative juices are spent"
We're left hanging out to dry. None of the work on "the 13th look" has begun as the episode closes.
Am I frustrated, annoyed, pissed with the producers, of course. Am I in awe, you bet. They know how to get maximum mileage, maximum voltage and maximum impact out of this show (after all that's their business, mate), even at the expense of the designers, whom they sometimes manage to treat just like mannequins or, worse yet, lifeless dehumanized props. And we let them get away with it. But we're like crafty old hunting dogs: however they obscure or disguise them we sniff them out, we smell the anxiety, the flicker of panic behind their glazed frozen eyes, behind the wax and the greasepaint, and we shake them back to life.

For the next week at least, the producers have us sitting on the edge of our seats, superventilating all the way to Bryant Park, praying that none of them will stumble now, in spite of all the provocation, so close to the finish line like this. (Well, of course we know that you didn't, that you all put your collections up amazingly assuured, classically professional [as seen from out front at least]).

I am impressed, I am really impressed. The formula has hit paydirt and has finally paid off in black gold. The cheap obvious game show tactics that simultaneously lure us in and insult our intelligence are essentially behind us now, and the human drama has begun. This is real drama that seizes you like the turbulent sections with the whole orchestra trembling or screaming or crying in unision in a Mahler symphony that anyone with a soul would respond to instinctively.

And believe it or not, I am now rooting for all of them. I don't have a favourite in the race anymore. (This is a breakthrough for me.) They all deserve it, they've all earned it and, whichever one wins, I know that they will be a credit to the foundational ethos behind Project Runway and a tribute to the art that is the core, the heart and the guts of fashion. A garment is more than an abstraction. Yes, it begins as a flickering idea, a vision that's rooted in the artist's head, that's vague, misty, nebulous. But as it crosses over into solid reality suddenly we hear the artist's heart throbbing, suddenly we feel the artist's passion, even in extreme cases his bliss, and sense the artist's blood, fire, sweat and tears woven indivisibly into the finished garment. And that cannot be washed out of it ever, anymore than you could hope to expunge Van Gogh from his transcendent Starry Night.

Stay tuned, folks (as if you could leave now). There's one more chorus of this song, the heartbreaking one where two people we admire and have grown attached to must take a fall. But in this case that fall is from such height that their feet should never even make it to the ground.

Heidi, Project Runway's reigning PoleStar and, both literally and figuratively, its resident Mother Goddess and the produces really know what they're doing, what they've been building toward all season. And come flood, hurricane, blizzard, earthquake or volcanic eruption it would be next to impossible not to tune in next Wednesday. They have a solid gold contract with the audience for this one.

KCF said...

wow. That was really something. I enjoyed this recap (can you really call it something as mundane as a recap?) as much as I enjoyed the show. It made me enjoy the show more, even. It's like good literary analysis. Bravo (no pun intended)!

miriald said...

I have to respectfully disagree with you, Laura. I thought most of the segment with Santino was a blatant manipulation on the part of the producers to make us "understand" why they never auf'd him for transgressions that sent every other designer packing. Now suddenly he's human (even toddlers like him!) so we can all feel the love when he wins and forget that he should have gone home with the wickety whack underwear.

And as for the last "surprise" what was that if not a cheap, reality show gimmick? The designers are exhausted, it's two days before the show that could have profound impact on their careers, and the producers throw this at them? Why? Are things not dramatic enough? It all seems very last minute and unfair.

Finally, am I the only one who felt uncomfortable watching all the auf'd designers having to crowd into that room and go through the schoolyard pick rejection again? Emmett especially seemed really hurt and embarrassed. That just seemed really unnecessary and hurtful to those not chosen.

I think they're setting us all up for a Santino win and making sure we all love the guy who had so much trouble in his past that we forgive the ego and the meanspiritness he's shown all season.

Frankly, I want to smack the producers. >_<

Laura K said...

"The resident roaches hold their breath." HA! : )

miriald said...

Sorry! I meant to address my comment to Don and not Laura.

Laura K said...

I know it's confusing - DON/FASHIONASART wrote this recap - not me - I just posted it so it looks like it's mine - but I can not take any credit.

The opinions (and the brilliance) are Don's alone. Of course as always, we welcome different points of view.

Matthew said...

This was interesting recap, if a tad over-dramatic. It's also incorrect in its portion regarding Tim Gunn's first visit with Daniel Vosovic.

1) it came before his trip to see Chloe, not after

and

2) during that visit, Tim seemed quite happy with Daniel's collection. "Dr. Don" has Tim's reaction during the Fashion Week lead-up confused with his first visit to see Daniel.

Just thought I'd mention it.

Tbone said...

Matthew - I was thinking Tim visited Chloe before DV since he made mention of how some of his peers did not have skethces.

I agree with you that Tim's first impression was generally positive. It wasn't until FW that Tim's ambivalence really emerged.

go mighty orbots said...

I'm a little surprised that you didn't mention Chloe's horrid childhood. Family prison camp for a few years in Vietnam? That just completely wrecked me. :(

karen said...

Miriald,

I agree with your Emmett comment. But I think Daniel F looked that way as well but he expected not to be picked. Poor Emmett, I felt the worse for him.

I wonder if Shetangy was surfaced just waiting to be picked?

Christina said...

No, they don't have to do another runway. The 13th design will become a part of their collection. All 13 pieces will show at FW.

And I would have to assume the final three already knew Kara was designing a decoy collection. Same thing was done last year. Kara's collection won't be shown on TV.

katiecoo said...

Breathtaking read. Thank you Don. Loved every word of it. You just made my whole experience alot richer.

Katie

echoe311 said...

Those were like Project Runway Clifnotes.

I loved it.

Can't wait until Wednesday.

fashionasart said...

MEA CULPA:

My intention here is primarily to capture the whole "arc" of the experience. From my perspective, of course. And to present it (the experience of the episode, as opposed to straight reportage) as fairly and authentically as possible, but not without touches of humour and some dramatic shaping. (Ironically,, I have done both journalism AND theater.)

I regret not fleshing out Chloe's personal history more, but filling in the gaps and providing a family context would have extended an already inordinately long article.
Your point is a valid one though. She has overcome unbelievable obstacles on the path to who she is nnow.

The same goes for the "Eliminati" invasion of the workplace. I was very touched by the awkwardness in general, and especially Emmett
who seemed to be singled out by the camera and his unusual height. One might have expected Chloe to choose him as they worked together so seamlessly on the BR challenge. And remember his brilliant impromptu sketch/mural. That man is going places!!
I have never seen anyone ever post a negative comment about Emmett. He comes off like Tim's twin among the designers: grace, courtesy, elegance in abundance.

When it's the middle of the night, and you're going through tons of scribbled notes, it's inevitable that you get a fact or two wrong and, with no underlying agenda at all, are guilty of an occasional, regretable omission.

I'd like to raise a cheer for both Chloe and Emmett!!!

Don/fashionasart

amy hayes long said...

I think it is notable from Tim's Out interview that Daniel F was tragically mesmerized by the cameras. Maybe Santino wasn't quite as ill-mannered as we had all supposed. JK- sure he was.