There is something undeniably savage yet beautiful about the Bleecker Street documentary McQueen, currently on an indie arthouse theatrical release and due to arrive in Indy on August 17th, a documentary based upon the life of fashion bad boy Alexander McQueen. McQueen, whose death by suicide in 2010 rocked the fashion world in what to then had been an enviable rags-to-riches story, was as infamous as he was famous for fashion shows in the 1990s and 2000s defined by their darkness and sparkled morbidity that didn't just cross lines of good taste but danced across those lines.
McQueen is never less than fascinating, McQueen's story of going from working class British boy to decidedly unpretentious fashion icon an endlessly compelling one, and co-directors Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui capture it beautifully and with tremendous balance, insight and intelligence. With shows like "Jack the Ripper Stalks his Victims" and "The Highland Rape" to his credit, McQueen's fashion presence was one of high performance and yet McQueen also glimpses inside the loving family life and paints a portrait of a man who was decidedly more normal than he was ever given credit for being. McQueen's family, for example, was noted for showing up to all of his shows and often with refreshments on hand for McQueen's models.
Doesn't exactly sound frightening, does it?
The McQueen skull, his now rather morbid logo that continues to represent the brand today, is on full display here and yet its impact is perhaps even more powerful given the tragedy of McQueen's death. Yet, most would say wisely, the brand has held on to McQueen's image as being a representation of the true McQueen. There's something beautiful about not allowing such imagery to be turned into something tragic.
It's not tragic. It's beautiful.
It's about halfway through the 111-minute McQueen that we begin to get a sense of the turning of McQueen's life from golden boy to something different, sadder maybe but sadder feels inadequate, and we begin to realize that before long we must deal with McQueen's life challenges even if the film itself largely focuses more on the artist than the artist as a tragic figure.
Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui have crafted a documentary that is mesmerizingly beautiful to watch, a tragedy in so many ways yet a tragedy that never becomes enveloped by that tragedy. The film is wickedly joyous, yet always knocking on the door of something darker that bubbles beneath the surface of every moment. This is especially true in the film's latter half. McQueen is scored by Michael Nyman, a frequent McQueen collaborator whose every rhythm brings to mind the vision of McQueen's fashion works and presentations.
Picked up by Bleecker Street for an arthouse run, McQueen will most certainly please McQueen's ongoing legion of fans along with anyone interested in the fashion world. Yet, so complete is the vision created by Bonhote and Ettedgui that the film has undeniable crossover appeal and emotional resonance that should and will reach so many more.
The film, as noted, opens in Indy on August 17th at Landmark Keystone Art Cinema.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic