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Monday, 18 May 2009

Looking back at my interview with Veruschka. By Glenn Belverio

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My favorite director, Michelangelo Antonioni, directs Veruschka in a scene for "Blow-Up."


Dear Shaded Viewers,

I recently viewed "The Model as Muse" exhibit at the Met and was reminded of the time I interviewed Veruschka for DUTCH magazine when I saw the iconic Franco Rubartelli photo of V in a Saint Laurent outfit in the show. I remember seeing Veruschka publicly for the first time at Squeezebox back in '94 or '95 but was too intimidated to talk to her. When I started writing for DUTCH magazine in 1999, one of the first stories I pitched was an interview with the 6'1" stunner. She's always been my favorite model, partly because she left modeling when Grace Mirabella brought her beige, bland, bourgeoise aesthetic to American Vogue. Veruschka, refusing to cut her hair on Mirabella's request, embarked on a project of fascinating body-painting photos.

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Franco Rubartelli photo of Veruschka in Saint Laurent safari wear from "The Model as Muse" show



One thing I would have loved to have seen included in "The Model as Muse" show, instead of cliched "Funny Face," is clips from Rubartelli's beautiful, haunting 1971 film "Veruschka." I obtained a video copy of it years ago and find it frustrating that this wonderful film hasn't been exhibited publicly. (Readers of A Shaded View may know better--let me know if you ever been to a screening of the film). One standout of the film is the gorgeously languid soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. 

Veruschka
Here Veruschka is wearing the famous bodysuit she wore in the notorious pot-party scene in "Blow-Up."

Above: One of the more psychedelic numbers from the soundtrack



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Around the time I interviewed Veruschka I went to see an exhibit of her body-painting photos back when Mike Gallagher, of Gallagher Vintage Magazines & Photos fame, had a gallery in Chelsea. He gave me this copy of LIFE magazine from August 18, 1967. The photos in the story are by Rubartelli and this was back when Veruschka lived with him in Rome. I love the hyperbolic, panting tone of the article. "Veruschka is the perfect reflection of the gaga little universe that has chosen her as empress....To see Veruschka on her home ground is to see first a great, gold mane of hair silhouetted against the sky, swaying slightly as she advances. She walks bolt upright, but instead of stiffness, slow-motion movement ripples along those endless expanses of her body."

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I met and interviewed Veruschka in December 1999, at Balthazar. I remember standing in front of the bistro waiting for her. I was nervous. "Suppose she doesn't like me?" I worried. "Suppose she just sits there like a frosty German diva and ignores me?" When she showed up, I broke into an excited smile and she smiled warmly in return and I knew everything was going to be okay. We sat in the restaurant and talked for hours. I remember that she ordered cake. "I love cake, I eat cake all the time," she told me which I thought was charmingly German. We laughed a lot about her famous line in "Blow-Up" (see interview below from the March/April 2000 issue of DUTCH) and I could tell that she will never, ever get tired of reciting it to fans of the film.


Veruschka
becoming something else

by Glenn Belverio

Veruschka is a work-in-progress. Born Countess Vera von Lehndorff in East Prussia, she reinvented herself as a mysterious fashion model in the '60s. Her iconic body-painting photos from the '70s and '80s are surreal, deceptive camouflages that rival Dali's inquiry into the subconscious. Her intimidating image is immediately dispelled by her warm, non-jaded manner. Veruschka, her childhood nickname, means "little Vera"--an apt name for a woman who still possesses child-like wonder and curiosity. 

Glenn Belverio: My favorite photo of you is the one from the "Trans-Figurations" series from the '70s where you're sitting at a table in the woods with a bottle of wine and a cup, and everything, including you, is covered in moss.

Veruschka: I started doing the body-painting work in the '60s and it grew into a collaboration with photographer Holger Trulzsch. I had a very good time doing that photo. It was shot in the woods of Bavaria where we lived. We went out there and just played. We picked up the moss and put it on my body. I had to sit long and still for that picture but it was actually easier to put together than the body-painting ones where I painted myself to look like like a rock or the sky or an old factory. Those required many hours of concentration; mixing the paint and making sure it matched the various backgrounds. But while I was posing I never thought, "Oh, I feel like a stone," or "now I feel like moss." You think nothing--or you think, "I am being frozen into something I can never get out of." 

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GB: Susan Sontag the culture critic referred to the body-painting photos in an essay as an embodiment of an "aesthetic of melancholy" i.e. that there was something sad about wanting to blend into an environment and disappear. Did the photos come out of any personal feelings of sadness?

V: No. It had nothing to do with anything personal. It is always an expression of something universal which is not about me, it's about life, the disappearance of everything, how nothing really exists.

GB: The photos play tricks on the eye--in the rock photo I tried to find you hiding within in the rocks until I realized your head was the rock.

V: Some people never see me at all.

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GB: Were the body-painting photos a way of getting away from being a fashion model?

V: No, it was not a big change. After I had been modeling for a year or two, I realized it could bore me to death, but these characters I wanted to play were always in my head, so I started to express them in a different way. I had already invented Veruschka and she became famous.

GB: Significantly, you left modeling during a time when I feel fashion started to decline, when Diana Vreeland was fired from Vogue in 1971 and Grace Mirabella took over...

V: I was doing the collection with Richard Avedon in Paris. I think I was the only model. We were trying out a new look, something different. Serge Lutens was doing my makeup for hours, he did it to death, it was too much. Grace Mirabella saw the pictures and called me to the office and said things like, "You should cut your hair, it's too long, and then more women can identify with you." She wanted me to be bourgeois, and I didn't want to be that. I didn't model for a long time after that.

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GB: Vreeland's period was a great time for fashion. You guys were like a team in a way.

V: Yes, I could call her up and say, "Diana, I have an idea" and she would listen to it and if she liked it she would say, "Great! Let's do it."

GB: Editors would never let models do that now, I think.

V: I don't want to say that I am special, but nobody did that even back in the '60s and '70s.

GB: That's the way it should be! When a model is involved with the creative process, it shows. The photo seems more genuine.

V: Of course, it makes a big difference.

GB: I saw a terrific photo of you in male drag as Dorian Gray in the film, "The Image of Dorian Gray in the Popular Press" by lesbian filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger. I think it's interesting how you've done these gender-bending performances...

V: Yes, I've played several men! I did a play called "Clara S" where I played several male roles. One was a very innocent you man and another character was Gabriele D'Annuzio, who was an actual fascist during Mussolini's time and a famous, crazy poet. I was very dictatorial and loud, dressed all in leather. Ulrike Ottinger directed the play and after a performance she told me, "I was looking for Dorian Gray and now I've found him. You must play him because you have the naiveness in your face that we need for him."

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Above: Veruschka as Chairman Mao from an issue of French Vogue 1971, photo by Alex Chatelain. (The concept was Salvador Dali's idea!)

GB: I saw a film you did in 1979, an Italian comedy where you play an anthropologist who travels to the island of Milos to investigate the origins of the Venus di Milo...

V: You saw that one?! It was called "Milo-Milo." It was such a bad film, even though there were very big actors in it.

GB: My favorite line in Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow-Up" is when David Hemmings comes up to you at the London pot party and says, "Doll! I thought you were in Paris!" and your character is very stoned and deadpans, "I am in Paris."

V: It was a big deal to show pot smoking on film, it made it very popular. After the film came out, everywhere I went people would always say to me, "I thought you were in Paris" and I would say over and over, "But I am in Paris."

GB: I love the bodysuit you're wearing in that scene.

V: That bodysuit makes an appearance in "Veruschka: Emanations," my new photo series that I am showing this year. In the photos, I become thirty different characters: animals, men, women, you and old, different nationalities. Ralph Pucci [the NY mannequin designer] has designed a new mannequin after me with Egyptian-style poses. I'm doing a show of the mannequins wearing the clothes of all my different characters. I asked different designers, famous and non-famous, to make outfits for all the characters I portray. It is a continuation of me reinventing myself.

GB: Tell me about your new film.

V: It's called Buddha Bum. It was shot by Toshiaki Ozawa with music by Micha Waschke. It was filmed in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. I play the Buddha and also many bums on the street. The film deals with homelessness, but there is nothing sentimental about it, you just see people, poor and homeless, sitting in the street, and they are actually connected to the Buddha. That is our range as people, we can go from Buddha to bum and everything in between. I think it is an important film to show in New York now, because of the homeless situation. There is a homeless man in my neighborhood who I feed every night. He tells me stories about how terrible the shelters are...

GB: What are your thoughts on the current state of fashion?

V: I don't look at magazines much, but what I think is much more visible in advertising is a kind of sickness being expressed, people who are almost fainting and are very pale. They're hanging in there somehow, which is the opposite of the '60s and '70s where everyone was very up and colorful and crazy. Now it is about being down and trying to make that interesting, which is an expression of our time. I have nothing to criticize, it's just that we are running out of ideas because everybody is so involved with running around and making a lot of money, more than they need. I think it's ridiculous. They should just stop and live. What they're doing is not living, not for me at least.

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Veruschka at the Berlin Film Festival

Thanks for reading!

Love,

Posted by Glenn Belverio at 04:51 AM | Permalink

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Comments

i love the body painting shoots. could you tell me who did those?

Posted by: briony | Nov 18, 2010 12:49:25 PM

the body painting work is amazing. the work in the forest was body paint used with the moss?

Posted by: c | Oct 8, 2009 8:34:21 PM

Wonderful article on Veruschka!
Thank you. She is a living kaleidoscope and you really captured her essence. I've been collecting photographs and images of her since the 60's and she only becomes more wonderfully interesting as time passes.
BRAVO!!!

Posted by: Randy Brooks | Sep 9, 2009 3:52:43 AM

Couldn't sleep. Got online to find something interesting to see/read/learn. Started wondering whatever happened to Vera von Lehndorff, so Googled Veruschka, saw her gallery photos and found Glenn Belverio's article. So interesting. What a treat to read! Thanks!

Posted by: Diane Gomez | Aug 19, 2009 10:40:53 AM

extraordinary article,

http://twitter.com/lumal

lookSEE
http://www.myspace.com/veravonlehndorff

Posted by: kirk maillet | Jul 14, 2009 9:41:15 AM

safari micro'mini.
damn.

Posted by: ron | May 20, 2009 3:38:06 PM

That was fantastic and I am going to look for that film. xxxxxD

Posted by: diane pernet | May 18, 2009 3:15:20 PM

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