Sympathy for the Devil: the Editrix in Film

In The Devil wears Prada, I realize we are meant to empathize with the earnest writer-turned-fashion-assistant Andy Sachs. She nearly sacrifices her writing career, loses her chef boyfriend, has to ditch her comfortable clothes, and is at the service of her editrix boss (the devil of the film), Miranda Priestly. In R.J. Cutler’s documentary The September Issue, the treatment of Anna Wintour, the editrix of Vogue magazine (and upon whom Devil is allegedly based), is that of a sharp, unsympathetic boss who reduces even her senior staffers to stuttering. In the classic Stanley Donen musical Funny Face, Kay Thompson’s editrix Maggie Prescott reduces the earnest bookworm/budding philosopher/heroine Jo Stockton to tears with all her pushing about fashion and beauty.

But my sympathy lies with the editrix. Perhaps it is a function of my age or of my experience as a working woman. Miranda Priestly and Maggie Prescott are accomplished women running a large staff and a big publication undergoing significant change. They are effortlessly chic, exacting in their standards, focused, aware of their responsibilities to other people, clear-visioned and clear-headed. The young girls they work with are earnest, full of ideals, starry-eyed about romance, and also naïve. Rather than absorbing the guidance of and paying attention to the direction of their editrixes, they follow the men! In Funny Face, Jo goes after the playboy fashion photographer who has sacrificed his artistic integrity to photograph (gasp!) fashion; in Devil Wears Prada, Andy goes after the playboy writer who has sacrificed his integrity to mingle with the Fashion Week crowd.

I enjoy ugly-duckling-turns-swan movies (including Funny Face and Devil), especially when the story is held together by a series of costume changes parading the latest fashions. But the narrative and the character of the maligned editrix is far more interesting to me. It is also noteworthy that in the fifty years between Funny Face and the films about Anna Wintour, nothing has changed within the confines of the film genre. The heroines are the young gamines, and the supporting characters are the women with character. Is this reflective of how contemporary society views successful women?

Funny Face (1957), dir. Stanley Donen, stars Audrey Hepburn and Kay Thompson.
The Devil Wears Prada (2006) dir. David Frankel, stars Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep.
The September Issue (2009) dir. R.J. Cutler, documents Anna Wintour and the Vogue staff.

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