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A revealing look at American's favorite body part.
Julie Strain (Heavy Metal 2000), pin-up queen and B-movie star, bluntly tells us that Hollywood is "a tits town." If there is a cynical indicator of potential success for a young actress, it is measured by her bra size. If she hasn't got big ones, thanks to the miracle of plastic surgery, there is the option of upgrading. It will come as no surprise that the influence of the movie industry's impossibly high standards for feminine beauty reach far off screen. The documentary Boobs: An American Obsession puts faces to the ordinary Americans that follow the showbiz example in pursuit of a big rack.
The issue of feminine beauty as filtered by popular culture is a familiar debate but director Nina Brownfield-Berry's documentary hears some fresh voices. Among her interview subjects are women preparing to undergo breast augmentation surgery. The film is told from a female perspective, but the documentary is not speaking from a feminist angle. They don't have an overt agenda but the filmmakers' attitudes are felt. It is both amusing and appalling what women will endure to realize the power of their boobs.
The male perspective is briefly sampled in talks with actor Tom Arnold (Gardens of the Night), a selection of husbands and boyfriends, and the plastic surgeons that are getting fat from the business of making 'em bigger. Female experts come in a wide variety too. Showbiz veterans include Julie Strain and Mamie Van Doren (High School Confidential). Stripper and website model Melonie Charm, sporting about 20 pounds of enhanced bosom, represents the newer showbiz medium. Occasionally throwing some cold water on the proceedings, cultural anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler reminds us what nature intended breasts for.
The most memorable people in Boobs: An American Obsession are the seemingly ordinary Americans chasing that "Hollywood perfect" body. We meet a mother and daughter in Texas getting implants together. The mother plans to join her daughter working in strip clubs. There is an enigmatic married couple, also from Texas, who are really excited about the wife upgrading from Cs to Ds. The husband is very supportive of his wife's decision and the pair's body language suggests more than they actually say during interviews. Putting the size obsession into perspective, there is a woman getting breast reduction surgery to ease the strain on her back and hopefully improve her image as a serious professional.
You can't talk about them without showing them, so, accordingly, there are plenty of naked breasts in the film. However, admirers of the topless female form may soon find themselves distracted by a nagging question: Are those real or fake? Before long, a suspicion develops that any boobs good enough for the movies are surgically enhanced and this brings really challenges mainstream notions of female beauty. The camera also ventures where Hollywood has never gone: into the operating room to watch breast surgery. There, we catch a glimpse of the surgical procedures and the cutting, stuffing and handling looks shockingly violent. It's hard to imagine any woman choosing to have this done to her body if she knew what it actually involved.
Despite its access to the operating room, the surgeons and other experts, the film doesn't talk about the ramifications of breast augmentation. How the breast and nipple function afterwards or the possible problems with implants would be nature points of discussion but they're not covered. The film also misses the chance to consider cultures with different attitudes about women's bodies. Supposedly, big breasts are strictly an American obsession but there is no examination of how this fixation isn't true in other countries.
Boobs: An American Obsession isn't groundbreaking and its revelation about our attitudes toward breasts isn't new. Still, it is a useful contribution to the conversation about women's body image. What sets this documentary apart is the inclusion of some regular Americans who surprise you with their openness. The scenes of surgery will be uncomfortable for some viewers but it's proof that boobs are a very big deal for many people.
About 16 minutes of deleted scenes are included on this DVD. These are extra interview clips with Julie Strain, Mamie Van Doren and Melonie Charm. The director and the producer contribute an audio commentary wherein they speak as much about their own mixed feelings about breasts as they reveal production details. There are a few silent stretches but it's a good complement to the film that adds a personal touch to the examination of how women's bodies are viewed.
The video source material is given a decent image transfer to DVD but it's presented in a letterboxed widescreen format leaving black bars on all four sides if you're viewing it on a 16:9 monitor. The stereo audio functions just fine for the simply shot interviews.
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