by Toby Woollaston

mcqueenSome might reserve their benefit pay for vices such as cigarettes or alcohol, but in the early days of British fashion designer Alexander McQueen, his dole money was spent on textiles. His literal rags-to-riches tale is a familiar one; a tortured artist driven by his passion to the point of self-destruction.  Yep, seen it before. But here, documentarians Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui have told McQueen’s tale with the kind of technical virtuosity that is utterly compelling. 

Right from the opening credits this film drips and oozes with rich imagery.  The camera is seldom still as McQueen’s life on the catwalk unfolds like a delicious sensory feast. Bonhôte and Ettedgui structure the film around a handful of foundational runway shows, including the infamous “Highland Rape” collection. McQueen was a reluctant provocateur, but unapologetic for exhibiting on the catwalk his own personal truth. His tenacity and authenticity brought about some of the most vivid fashion shows to date and bore out cathartic events, often expressing a darkly violent and ironic inner beauty—the kind of brutal truth that lies beneath a children’s nursery rhyme. Ultimately, his vivid imagination did not go unnoticed and landed him within the hallowed walls of Givenchy and Gucci. But with a rack of skeletons in the closet and numerous demons to wrestle, his is a fairytale that was never going to end well.

Rather than relying solely on archival footage, this very well sourced documentary is laced with anecdotal stories from friends and family who give an emotional account of the troubled artist. The breadth of candid interviews is worth noting. From larger-than-life personalities such as Isabella Blow who took McQueen under her wing, to his mum, schoolmates, models, industry confidants, friends and family, all flesh out the McQueen story. Add to that, Cinzia Baldessari’s (Almost Heaven) deft editing and Michael Nyman’s (The Piano) heady score and you have a glorious symphony for the senses that runs the gamut of emotions; occasionally amusing, often macabre … but always fascinating. This is bravura filmmaking of the highest order and begs to be seen on the big screen.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.