Creativity is a strange thing - so often personal and objective, it’s rare that a universal consensus on art is ever truly reached. So it’s understandable that the artists behind these works are often fascinating, conflicted individuals, further exasperated when placed in the public spotlight. Considered possibly the most influential fashion designer of the 21st century, Alexander McQueen is no exception - and as the new documentary ‘McQueen’ explains, the darkness in his life helped him create some of his most memorable designs, but would also inevitably lead to his downfall.
The rags-to-riches story of Lee Alexander McQueen isn’t particularly unique, but the degree of passion in his work and consistent upward trajectory are. From his early school days, he preferred drawing outfits rather than paying attention in maths or science classes. Finding work with a tailor, he learned his craft eagerly, before moving into formal fashion studies. Finding a fan in magazine editor Isabella Blow, his star truly rose with the arrival of his first collection, ‘Jack the Ripper Stalks his Victims’. It changed the way the world perceived fashion at the time, offering something dark, edgy and deeply personal. He would eventually be hired by Givenchy, where his notoriety became international - but pressures from his work and personal life would leave a lasting effect on this wounded artist.
I went into this documentary knowing very little about the man behind McQueen besides his latter years. There’s also very little I would consider more painfully dull than a film based in the fashion industry. Yet from the moment I saw this trailer, I knew I had to see this documentary. To the credit of the team behind 'McQueen', I was not disappointed - this is a meticulous and arresting overview of both a creative genius and an ordinary, everyday man grown from humble beginnings.
Crafted with a touch of McQueen’s own flair, the film is both beautifully crafted and adorned with darkness. Misfortune seems to follow Lee his whole life, and it has a profound effect on him as an artist and a human being. Similarly, director Ian Bonhôte and co-director/writer Peter Ettedgui draw from this source with innovative and creative methods to tell the story, from the stunningly-designed chapter introductions utilising McQueen’s skull and bird motifs to the clever use of rare and unseen archive material. Similarly, Michael Nyman’s music - a man who was good friends with Lee - is as vital to the experience as the visuals. From the film’s inception, the bold and electrifying score provide a unique flair and emotional honesty to the story.
Crafted with a touch of McQueen’s own flair, the film is both beautifully crafted and adorned with darkness.
Tying these together are funny, insightful, occasionally moving interviews from the people who knew Lee best. Hearing from his former partners, co-workers, family and friends, you put together a well-rounded image of the man - granted, a little skewed to protect him and his legacy, but also unafraid to delve into some of the tougher moments of his life. As his career progresses, and the stress begins escalating for Lee, there are tales told which begin to reveal the darker persona beneath his smiling facade. As the toll on him becomes unbearable, Lee’s closest confidants witnessed changes in their friend which would inevitably lead him down a path of destruction.
Lee Alexander McQueen was just 40 at the time of his death. Yet in that time, he had given so much to the world of fashion, pop culture and art that he’s considered to be one of the great artists of the 21st century. ‘McQueen’ exquisitely honouring this legacy, balancing the life of a troubled man and an artistic mastermind. Like the man himself, this documentary isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of filmmaking, from its gripping storytelling to its lush visuals. This is one of the most impressive cinematic achievements of 2018.