First came the actor, then the British director. But if you live and die for fashion, a documentary called “McQueen” could tell only one story, that of designer Alexander McQueen, whose extraordinary gifts, dark preoccupations and tragic death make for a completely engrossing, compulsively watchable film.
Even if the dramas and dictates of couturiers and catwalks mean little to you, it is hard to resist the propulsive energy that director Ian Bonhote and co-director and writer Peter Ettedgui bring to the story of a designer whose background, beliefs and gifts were not what one would expect.
Growing up in London’s nonposh East End, the youngest of six children of a cabdriver, McQueen wrestled with demons from childhood. He committed suicide at age 40, a time when success was at his beck and call.
Rather than flee that darkness, McQueen used it as the essence of his creativity: “Everything I do is personal. You want to know me, just look at my work.”
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And wild and terrifying work it often was. “I don’t want shows you come out of like you had Sunday lunch, I want you to be repulsed or exhilarated,” he said. “If you leave without emotion, I’m not doing my job properly.”
The designer and the documentary bear a resemblance to Kevin Macdonald’s “Whitney,” another illustration of the reality that great ability does not ensure happiness; both feature individuals everyone knew were in trouble but no one was finally able to help.
Sympathetic to the designer, the filmmakers persuaded many of McQueen’s friends and collaborators to talk on camera and used a propulsive Michael Nyman score to good effect.
Finally, Alexander McQueen was sui generis, one of a kind, which is why more than a million people turned out in London and New York to see a posthumous exhibition of his work, and why this striking documentary is hard to get out of your mind.
“McQueen,” a documentary directed by Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui, from a screenplay by Ettedgui. 101 minutes. Rated R for language and nudity. Pacific Place. The Los Angeles Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.