Month: October, 2018

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist

WestwoodPunkIconActivistThis year has now produced two notable documentaries about British fashion designers. But where the recently released McQueen was a straight stare at a life that burnt bright, Westwood dials things back and is a more measured examination of a designer still working.

From the outset, the film makes it clear that Vivienne does not want to tell us her life story. In the film’s only vagary, it’s difficult to discern if she is apologetically embarrassed about boring us with her stories, or unapologetically annoyed about boring herself with them. What is abundantly clear though, is that Westwood is a straight shooter offering some Gordon Ramsey styled moments of non-minced vocabulary.  

The documentary dispenses with her upbringing, beginning instead in the seventies when Westwood was busy confronting society with the self-proclaimed invention of punk. It was when punk became fashionable, rather than a middle finger to the establishment it was supposed to be, that Westwood branched off and seriously honed her skill as a clothes designer.  Unsurprisingly, her punk sensibility (which is still in evidence today) raised the ire of the British fashion fraternity. Her label independently forged on nonetheless and even to this day, it’s rapid expansion clashes with her desire to maintain control of it. 

Westwood is a wonderful sensory experience and its fractured visual approach makes for an engaging experience. Fledgeling Director Lorna Tucker has done a commendable job of harnessing the copious amount of archival footage, presenting it in an imaginative way. A tapestry of overlapping imagery and footage jumps around the screen, building on the film’s larger canvas. 

Although visually rewarding, the documentary lacks the narrative bite to match Westwood’s iconoclastic persona. There are interesting flash-points of drama throughout, but as a whole, the film doesn’t have the punch of contemporaries such as McQueen—obviously, a lot more difficult when the subject of your doco is still alive and kicking.

Even so, Westwood is a worthwhile documentary that demonstrates how an outspoken provocateur, who is pointed in the right direction, can be an effective agent for positive change. And if the film teaches us one thing it is that the world needs punks, icons, and activists.

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

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Beast

beast“You’re wounded. I can fix that.”—it is a seemingly innocuous opening line from Beast, but it speaks volumes about the film’s two central characters. Moll (played by Jessie Buckley), to whom the line is directed, has just met the mysterious Pascal (Johnny Flynn).  His multilayered comment clearly points to more than just the cut on her hand.

In his debut feature, Writer/Director Michael Pearce has created a complex and vividly lush thriller that sits you bolt-upright in your seat.  It is a brooding character study that investigates the hidden monsters within, borrowing from dark thrillers like Lady Macbeth and winking at classics such as Fatal Attraction.

A serial killer is on the loose in the small British island community of Jersey … a bad time for Moll to fall in love with a mysterious stranger.  Moll, a sheltered young woman, is still firmly under her oppressive mother’s thumb (clinically played by Geraldine James), but the allure of Pascal is too great to resist. As the murder-mystery plays out in the periphery, Beast chooses to focus on creating, then untangling, the complex love story of Moll and Pascal. They are two flawed individuals who both wrestle with their own demons and although the machinations of the murder-mystery are ever-present, the film’s real mystery is what motivates their relationship. 

Beast works best in the quieter moments of introspection and interaction between the two lovers.

The underrated Jessie Buckley (Taboo, War and Peace) is superb here. She drips with screen presence and her nuanced performance has Moll teetering on the cusp of sanity. Also of note is cinematographer Benjamin Kracun (Hyena), whose careful attention to every shot is a spellbinding feast of perfection, almost to the point of distraction. 

It is a shame, then, that the film’s finale falls a little flat and an opportunity to finish on a provocatively ambiguous note is disappointingly snuffed out by Pearce’s neat and tidy ending. Nonetheless, Beast remains, for the most part, an excellent film from a talented cast and crew that are worth keeping an eye on.

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