McQUEEN, UK, 2018. Directed by Ian Bonhoite, Peter Ettedgui. 111 minutes. Rated MA (Strong coarse language)
No, not Steve McQueen the actor nor Steve McQueen the British Oscar-winning director (12 Years a Slave). This is another Englishman, Lee Alexander McQueen, fashion designer.
There seems to be something of a run on documentaries about fashion designers, films in recent years about Coco Chanel, Yves St Laurent, Gianni Versace, The Gospel according to Andre, Westwood, and this documentary about McQueen who established is own company, worked for Givenchy for several years…
Obviously, this is a film for fashion aficionados (enthusiastic afashionados). A lot of background about McQueen and his abilities, his imagination, his workshop and assistants, his knowledge of materials, fabrics,, of design. There is a lot of footage on the variety of shows, sometimes many shows a year from the late 1980s to 2010. A lot of the footage comes from workshops but even more from performance on a variety of catwalks.
But, for those not so interested in fashion for those who do not understand the variety of trends and themes and how they are embodied sometimes in costumes which seem outlandish? There is his biography, the portrait of an artist and his eccentricities, a man who was driven, a man who could not take it any more, especially after the death of his mother.
So, for this kind of audience, a study in the psychology of a talented, creative but strange man.
There is a lot of footage of McQueen himself explaining himself, his family background, comments from his mother, a great number of comments from his sister who had a brutal husband who was also abusive towards McQueen. He lacked interest in school. He liked to draw, design. And, in his early 20s not only did he receive encouragement, he was given opportunities to study, to go into practice, to achieve. To many he was likable. For others he was difficult. He was very mannered – and, over 20 years, he developed a persona that seemed often inconsistent, chubby at one stage, slimmed down at another, different styles of clothes, hair, bald. He was also a gay man – and two men with whom he had strong relationships also give their testimony. Ultimately, he contracted AIDS.
But, the psychological study is immersed in his designs, his flair for fabrics, talent for colours, the intensity of his designs, choosing of themes from history, mythology. It has been mentioned, he was persuaded to work for Givenchy for several years. However, he built up his own company.
There is enough in the documentary for audiences to be able to speculate on what McQueen’s underlying demons were and, how they affected him by the age of 40 and drove him to take his own life.
The style of the film is quite exotic, the style of photography very much in the fashion world vein, design, colours, angles – so that the audience, even despite itself, is drawn into McQueen’s special world.
Madman Released September 6th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.