“Genius is made, not born” according to Einstein, in the case of Lee Alexander McQueen it is a mixture of both. The documentary of his life using footage shot by him, of him and interviews with those who knew him well including family members. It is a bold, vivacious, very funny and utterly enthralling view of a man, icon and fashion genius – McQueen.
The documentary is shot in a linear fashion, so tape 1 starts with Lee, as those who knew him called him as a shy sixteen year old with this raw talent. In his own words who wasn’t very academic only leaving school with one O level as he mostly sketched clothes during lessons. Tape 2 follows him to Saville Row and those who saw the raw, pulsating talent and helped to nurture it. It also provides rare footage of his graduate show at which, his mentor, Isabella Blow first saw her protege.
Tape 3 is when he has arrived in Paris and working at Givenchy and still keeping his eponymous label afloat. He did 14 shows a year – cutting, designing all was him. He was a workhorse.
The sadness that surrounded him is evident from how he tried so hard to fit in. With money, he was able to afford liposuction and then to fill the void he turned to drugs. His friendship and the betrayal of Isabella Blow is not sugar-coated either, it too suffered as he became more successful and in some ways resentful of how people would say she made him. No one can make anyone but without Blow, it would be hard to see if Alexander McQueen would have become the icon he is today. It was she who said he should use his middle name, Alexander rather than Lee.
Tape 4 shows the Voss show and also, the iconic no 13 show in 1999 ‘man vs machine’ where Shalom Harlow wore that strapless white dress that in actual fact was just an underskirt held up by a belt and was sprayed by two robotic guns.
Tape 5 is the final tape where we see how the darkness engulfed Lee as well as the drugs and paranoia.
In the words of Alexander McQueen himself: “if you want to know me just look at my work”, and when we do we weep for what might have been but are grateful for what remains.
This is one of the most sensitive biopics yet revealing of an icon since Amy in 2015. Co-directors Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui manage to show the man and what it took to become this almost mythical figure and how the view from the top is a lonely one. What sets this documentary apart is how meticulously it was researched and the number of people willing to contribute and their honesty. It is often easy to forget just the amount of passion it takes to produce such items of beauty – in the case of McQueen it wasn’t just blood, sweat and tears but also his very being. What the directors do not shy away from is focusing on McQueen’s mental health issues which were only exacerbated first with the suicide of Isabella Blow and then his mother’s death. He then took his own life at the age of 40 on 11 February 2010.
“I don’t want you to walk out feeling you’ve just had Sunday lunch. I want you to leave feeling repulsed, or exhilarated. As long as it’s an emotion.” There is no doubt in my mind that you will not be full of emotion. Singular, visceral and unforgettable – McQueen is a documentary to be seen with plenty of tissues. This documentary is not just for lovers of fashion but for anyone interested in what it takes to make it creatively and for an honest, non sugar coated portrait of an icon.
McQueen is released across cinemas in the UK on Friday, 8 June.
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