How “Blue Steel” Predicted Selfie Culture

The original idea for “Blue Steel” started, appropriately, in the mirror. As explained in a 2016 Esquire interview, Stiller was “brushing my hair or whatever,” when his wife stopped him to ask why he was making such weird faces. “It’s just that thing you do that you think makes you look good,” he said, “which really has no correlation to reality.” Soon, he and Sather began brainstorming a variety of silly names for his various poses, but “there was no difference between the looks,” Gallen laughs. “That was the funny part of it.”

To make “Blue Steel” pop onscreen, Stiller knew he needed to elevate his original sketch-comedy aesthetic. That started with his goopy hair, which designer Alan D’Angerio replaced with a puffed-black wig. “I just wanted to intensify the look for film,” says D’Angerio, who spent about four months crafting three wigs for the duration of the shoot. “The knotting was done in different places where I could give it more fullness and less fullness, to just balance it and make it more perfect-looking—because Derek was perfect.”

He and makeup designer Naomi Donne collaborated on the rest of Derek’s appearance, researching glossy fashion magazines from the ‘90s and noticing a general androgynous quality shared by the era’s models. Inspired by Derek’s obsession with his features, Donne “did a lot of makeup on him to give him a slight mannequin look,” she says. “Usually I go for a very natural look, but on this he was covered [with] quite a heavy foundation. It didn’t particularly show that much, but he had this sort of flawless skin, chiseled cheek, [and] I did some definition to make his eyes pop.”

Robinson, the costume designer, was tasked with providing context for the famous look. For the film’s iconic “Blue Steel” shot, he went over the top with a Gucci-printed outfit. “I had the sweater and the scarf there, and I didn’t really think about it being wrapped around his head. That just happened while we were on set—he put it on his head, and Naomi and Alan just sort of got into it,” Robinson says. “It also varied his look…You want to have a variety so it stays interesting.”

Derek’s silky-smooth pout popped even more in the presence of Mugatu, Will Ferrell’s villainous fashion magnate whose ludicrous features were outdone only by his plotting to maintain the industry’s inhumane child labor practices. As a direct contrast to Derek’s flat-ironed hairstyle, D’Angerio transformed the actor’s curly locks into Leia-like buns and “bleached the shit out of Will Ferrell’s hair,” Donne laughs. “I took it to the highest color I could get his hair to go,” D’Angerio says. “And then I started giving the haircut and he had a really nice nape [and] hairline, and as I’m cutting it, I started seeing an ‘M,’ so I cut an ‘M’ in the back for Mugatu.”

Robinson finished the outlandish look by fastening Ferrell with a corset, once again accentuating the extremes these characters would go for their personal brand. “The Mugatu style is really out there,” Robinson says. “We just approached each scene in terms of what would be funny.”

In 2013, Jason Feifer went viral when he published a Tumblr called “Selfies at Funerals,” a blog dedicated to sharing photos posted by teenagers moments before mourning. On a recent vacation, Feifer had been intrigued by tourists breaking out their best duck faces in front of the Anne Frank House, and wanted his site to capture similar extremes without judgment. “I was really curious about this impulse to [take selfies] extending to the places where maybe we should think twice,” he says. Of course, those early posters could have easily been taking their cues from Zoolander. In a scene midway through the movie, Derek attends a funeral dressed in a wildly inappropriate all-white suit, and spends the majority of his eulogy announcing his retirement from modeling while striking a few “Blue Steels” to the crowd. Though mostly played for laughs, Derek’s behavior—a kind of permanent performance—feels tailor-made for our livestream era.

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