“McQueen,” a kinky catwalk of a movie, is a savagely beautiful tribute that the late, irreverent fashion designer Alexander McQueen would surely have appreciated.
Documentarians Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui have an embarrassment of riches to tell the story of a working-class British boy who set the fashion world ablaze in the 1990s and 2000s: footage of McQueen’s outlandishly dark fashion shows; intimate interviews with those close to the designer; and, not to be underestimated, the filmmakers’ own flair for the diabolical.
The latter is on display with a visually dazzling skull — still a symbol of McQueen’s brand today — that alternately squirts blood, decomposes before our eyes or emits items that include jewels, butterflies and fabrics. The macabre graphic device might seem over the top, and in bad taste, given that McQueen committed suicide in 2010, but instead, the skull interludes tailor the film into a cohesive, if morbid, whole.
And they seem appropriate for a designer whose shows included “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims” and “The Highland Rape.” Whatever one thinks of the political appropriateness of these runway spectacles — McQueen insisted that he was indicting misogyny, not advocating it — there is no denying that the catwalk presentations are exhilarating theater. The score by legendary composer Michael Nyman only enhances the effect.
McQueen comes off as a provocative, hardworking, disciplined artist, but not as a diva — hardly the typical fashion icon. This was an unpretentious guy who seemed like he would be more at home in the local pub than in the fancy design center. And it’s charming that his mother and family showed up at all his events — sometimes with refreshments for the models. There are times when parts of McQueen’s love life — and other personal sorrows — feel glossed over, but in the grand scheme of things, this is a fascinating portrait of an artist.
One major point in the film’s favor is how well McQueen’s creations still hold up: They look like museum pieces, worthy of an exhibition (which did happen in New York and London). We don’t have to be fashion mavens to admire the craftsmanship — or to enjoy this film.
David Lewis is a freelance writer.