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McQueen: Revealing documentary about fashion’s greatest rebel
June 12, 2018
McQueen is another fashion documentary in the recent line of offerings glamourising and fetishising the lives of fashion icons; Westwood, Dior & I or Maplethorpe: Look at The Pictures, to name a few. In this occasion, the documentary centres its story on the life of British fashion designer Alexander McQueen who tragically committed suicide in 2010 at just forty years of age (a week after his mother passed away) leaving a legacy of a unique, extravagant and avant garde style that pushed boundaries and flirted with controversy as much for his clothes as for his high-concept fashion shows but also his own excessive lifestyle.
McQueen’s life is documented through footage of fashion shows, backstage scenes, media interviews, print headlines as well as personal home video clips coupled with talking heads consisting of industry folk, acquaintances, friends and family. We are privy to his ascension from east London schoolboy drawing dresses to an apprenticeship at Saville Row to studying at Central St. Martin’s where he becomes the protégé of prominent stylist Isabella Blow to Givenchy’s head-designer then Gucci and finally becoming his own fashion brand. As his life is explicitly revealed some personal revelations are grim, but fully explain the dark motifs of his work. McQueen was abused as a child by his brother-in-law, he witnessed acts of horrendous domestic violence and early on in his career, he was accused of misogyny, specifically in the way he treated his models.
A chunk of the film, is taken up by Isabella Blow, who started off as a mentor to become a very close friend but they ended up falling out after McQueen failed to get her a salaried position at Givenchy. Blow is mentioned throughout, repeatedly. Granted she discovered and championed his talents, but the continuous focus on her detracts from McQueen’s story, especially as we are treated to numerous close-up interview clips of Blow’s husband Dietmar, who seems to extrapolate and impose his own PR spin on events.
The documentary is separated into numerous chapters, each marking McQueen’s life stages and fashion moments. Each chapter titled and introduced with a cliché-ridden montage of graphics; images of skeleton heads covered with jewels or gothic flames or colourful butterfly taxidermy. It is intended to pay homage, but so obviously referential that it looks like a dated, watered-down version of the McQueen aesthetic; it lacks any kind of edge that it resembles an advert for a luxury ice-cream brand.
Co-directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, they portray equal measures of the creative and the personal. They detail his fashion side, showcasing the evolution of his designs and catwalk shows but also the change within McQueen with the acquisition with wealth and recognition. Marrying all these factors together, the documentary provides a deeper understanding of his tortured psyche. Certain themes, albeit sensational, could have been explored further, such as: the excessive drug abuse, the fact he was HIV positive or more information on his sexual or long-term sexual relationships (we get very brief interviews with two ex-partners); all points mentioned but slightly expanded upon, leaving us with numerous unanswered questions.
The crux of McQueen’s exceptional talents, is the drama and darkness of his own life channelled into his art and genius craftmanship. McQueen par the cheesy chapter interludes is a noteworthy documentary that succeeds in giving a true-to-life account of Alexander McQueen, the fashion designer and the person, highlighting his greatness but also his troubled inner world.
McQueen is out now.
Words by Daniel Theophanous @danny_theo_.
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