Ever since film began as an art form, the tragedy has proven to be a main staple. A powerful form of this genre is the personal tragedy, a young, promising life cut short through bad decisions and circumstances. A brilliant example of this is the 1998 HBO biography of Gia Carangi, undoubtedly one of the worlds first super models. In the 1970s this young girl traveled from a working class family life in Philadelphia to the runways of the world. At the age of 17, Gia Carangi (Angelina Jolie) was discovered by Wilhelmina Cooper (Faye Dunaway), head of the prestigious Wilhelmina modeling agency. What she saw in Gia would ultimately be the young girls downfall, spirit, independence, and a carefree lust for life. While on the surface this is a predicable cautionary tale of how rapid fame and excess will destroy a person, there is much more here. It is an indictment of the 70s. The remnant of the 60s free love and drugs was still around. AIDS was still only a specter on the horizon and the media was starting its explosive rise to a driving force in peoples lives. Gia was always rebellious. Sporting her tattoos and fascination with knives she was a far cry from the usual girl who sought a career in professional modeling. At that time most models were almost interchangeable mannequins, pretty animated hangers to display a designers latest creations. Gia brought a life and energy to this jaded field and as a result soon found herself a true star. With this fame and money Gia had access to the excesses she could only have dreamt about previously. First there was the release of restrictions on her body. She is portrayed as very comfortable with her body. In an early shoot the photographer asks the models to stay behind for some art. Gia takes him up on this and does some rather kinky nude shots for him. She also finds herself very attracted to a makeup artist Linda (Elizabeth Mitchell). Although Linda is engaged to a man she finds herself in the midst of a sexual relationship with Gia that grows in its emotional depth. Gia also is introduced to drugs, the ultimate downfall. Sorting cocaine soon gives way to intravenous injections that a lead to her getting AIDS. All too late Gia comes to grips with her misspent life.
The acting in this movie is excellent but it is Jolie that truly shines. Daughter of Academy Award winner Jon Voight, Jolie carries on the family traditions far better than many second-generation stars. The key to her performance is the many levels she is able to give the character of Gia. Brash and outspoken melts into a lost little girl unsure of everything in life, especially herself. While the story line may seem like an After School Special, the performance of Ms Jolie explodes, taking the film to amazing heights. Dunaway still has it. She can command the screen in a scene where she barely has a line to speak. Many actresses that start out in the sexy young girl roles are able to mature into truly dramatic roles. Dunaway is one of these rare actresses. She presents her character as Gias boss, her confidant and her surrogate mother. A complex actress handling a complex role in the manner it was intended to be played.
Michael Cristofer does not have a lot of films under his belt but he has talent in good measure and is sure to find himself in increasing more noticeable projects. His style is to present this film as a retrospective look at this young life. Co-author to the screenplay he cuts in numerous passages from Gias diary and the actual words of those that knew her well. He often takes the audience out of the film into conversations with Gias mother, lovers and associates. This adds an intimacy to the film that serves to heighten the emotional impact and provides an excellent counter point to the scenes of Gia herself. Cristofer used a variation on this technique in his later film, Body Shots. While it was still successful in this later film I hope he branches out and explores other means of telling a story.
The disc is not what most people look for in a DVD. The audio is Dolby two-channel surround. The video reveals its cable television roots with its 4:3 aspect ratio. There are no real extras provided. Still, the story carries the disc. The acting and direction is compelling enough to make this a worth while purchase. This is the breakout film for Jolie and is a must have in only for this reason.
For those so inclined there is now an extended, uncut version of this DVD. Little was added to actual extend or advance the storyline. The footage that was included is mostly additions to the now internet famous lesbian love scenes between Gia and Linda. Fortunately, adding this material does not detract from the actual impact of this cautionary tale. The bottom line is this young woman lived too fast, rose too far and fell all too abruptly. After watching both versions it is easy to see why the material was not originally included. It serves no purpose other than pandering to the more puerile interests.