This is a bit of an oddity, and I don’t mind admitting that if it wasn’t for Mrs Reviewer, I might have missed this. McQueen is a documentary that focuses on the life and work of legendary fashion designer Alexander “Lee” McQueen, who came from a working class background in Stratford, and armed only with his talent and sheer determination, became one of the world’s leading shakers and movers in a world of fashion that I only recognized through Zoolander.
I knew nothing of the story that this stylish production told, but it’s an incredible narrative that would have worked just as well as a screenplay. Everyone loves a rags to riches story, and this certainly has got that particular cliche covered. McQueen has a love for design that transcends obstacles such as finance and tradition and we follow his footsteps from Saville Row tailor to international superstar through video tapes and talking heads that cover every aspect of his professional life.
The writers and directors, Peter Ettedgui and Ian Bonhote find the family, friends, lovers, teachers and work colleagues of Alexander, and they all offer different insights into the journey through his incredible life. The people that he crossed paths with, all offer information that help to show us how special McQueen actually was. From a work ethic that was never diluted, to a creative mind that would pull inspiration from nowhere at the last moment, it’s quite gripping and engaging commentary.
The film itself is suffused with some nice touches too. We are presented with each section of his life through video tapes numbered 1 to 6, and each one covers important aspects of his evolution. And evolution is indeed the correct term. There is such a change in McQueen, that by the final reel it’s hard to recognise him as he first appears. The imagery used in the film is also reminiscent of the man’s work itself. Now I have no context to base this on, but the clothes on display at the shows are framed within some of the darkest and sinister imagery you could hope to see. One collection was presented to the fashionable powers that be, in an asylum created on stage, that housed the models behind two way mirrors, allowing the photographers and journalists to see them, but the models were unaware of them In the center of the set was a glass booth that at the climax of the show opened in a rain of broken glass to reveal the horror inside. Much more Silent Hill than fashion week, and an indication that McQueen was haunted by horrors of his past that were reflected in his work.
An interview with Tom Ford towards the end of the documentary made me wish McQueen too had taken his talents to the big screen. His visceral imagery was shocking and mesmerizing and we can only wonder what he would have done with something like Hereditary. His use of music, choreography and lighting made his shows a masterclass in Grand Guignol and his attention to detail such as hair, make up and costumes could have made him a visionary such as Guillermo del Toro. Models are seen with prosthetic make up, contact lenses and of course incredible outfits, and McQueen at one point uses robots to spray paint a model as she revolves on a platform in front of the aghast audience.
There’s a tragedy to the story though that is handled with compassion, but I won’t say too much here in case, like me, you don’t know the whole story before going in. The directors are very kind to the subject, and come across as fans of his work, and I wonder if perhaps there were some darker aspects to his life that perhaps they glossed over, however this is an engrossing feature that caught me by surprise and is definitely a recommend. They say fashion is like eating, you shouldn’t stick to the same menu, and the same goes for films, check this out if you dare.
Rating: 9 out of 10