McQueen – Film Review by Kevin C. Olohan.
Directors: Ian Bonhôte, Peter Ettedgui (co-director)
Writer: Peter Ettedgui
Star: Alexander McQueen
“I’m not angry with myself. I’m angry with the world.” – Lee Alexander McQueen.
On the 13th of April of this year, the legendary Czech-American filmmaker Milos Forman died at the age of 86. With such movies under his belt as The People vs. Larry Flynt, Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (One of only three films to earn all five of the major Academy Awards) the director’s legacy is secure. But why am I telling you this in a review of a documentary of British Fashion Designer and couturier Lee Alexander McQueen? Because as I watched this film, I felt like I could have been watching one of Forman’s.
Shortly before the director’s death, I read a controversial quote about Forman calling him “Hollywood’s most celebrated one trick pony” (I regrettably failed in my attempt to find the source of this quote). While perhaps a bit harsh, there is undoubtedly truth in that statement as the heroes of Forman’s work typically follow the same path: a brilliant young talent attempts to stay true to themselves until they are eventually crushed by the weight of their own brilliance and their society. There are strong echoes of this in Man on the Moon, One Flew, and certainly Amadeus, this can also be said of the late McQueen. In fact the above quote could have been in the scripts of any one of those movies.
The film charts the meteoric rise and tragic fall of the fashion industries most innovative anarchist. Born into a working class family in Stratford, in London’s East End, the youngest of six. McQueen might have been expected to follow in the footsteps of his taxi driver father, but he instead began working as a tailor. Following an apprenticeship in Italy, the young Lee returned to London and was encouraged to apply for St. Martin’s College (even though he didn’t come from Greece, with a thirst for knowledge. I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist). He quickly established his own label, while working for Givenchy in Paris, until his partnership with Tom Ford and Gucci. Tragically, on February 11th 2010, at the age of forty, and at the very height of his fame and success, Lee McQueen took his own life.
It is a classic tragic story that we have seen time and time again, with so many brilliant artists. What makes this documentary different, and so powerful is how it is presented. Beautifully framed into five chapters. Focusing on five of the most pivotal and personal of McQueen’s shows: from his St. Martin’s college showcase: “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims” to his visionary final show: “Plato’s Atlantis.” This allows the film to focus on the work of McQueen, and what that said about him personally. It’s a gorgeous device. There was an immense amount of theatricality and drama to McQueen’s shows, and focusing on these allows the film to have a great cinematic feel.
Narrated by his closest friends, family and collaborators, as well as a huge amount of home video recorded by McQueen himself gives the film an immensely personal feel. A highlight of this is an almost voyeuristic moment where we see an altercation between McQueen and his mentor/muse Isabella Blow.
The true accomplishment of the film, is that while it goes into great detail of the artistic process of McQueen, from sketch, to stitch, to runway (which is sure to engross those interested in fashion and couture) the dramatic and personal framing make it a fascinating watch even to those who think Haute Couture is something you order in a French restaurant. Enough cannot also be said of the breathtaking music by Michael Nyman, which excellently underscores the pace and intensity. McQueen was a massive fan of Nyman, frequently working to his music, and even commissioning a piece from the composer. This only increases the personal beauty of this haunting documentary.
While it is a shame we’ll never see the Milos Forman, Alexander McQueen biopic. It would have been hard, even for that legendary filmmaker to top the incredible work done here, by writer/director Peter Ettedgui and director/producer Ian Bonhote.
McQueen is out June 15th.