Considering the popularity of the fashion doc, McQueen seems long overdue.
Not only a fashion great, the late Alexander McQueen was among a handful of designers embraced by the art world. His clothes were inventive and political and his runway shows were unparalleled.
The audience actually gasped at his spring 1999 ready-to-wear show, for example, when robotic arms of the sort usually seen in a body shop splattered supermodel Shalom Harlow’s pouffy white dress with black paint.
At its best, McQueen channels the unique atmosphere – frenetic, intense, excessive to the point of over-stimulation – of his fashion shows. But the designer was also plagued by loneliness and personal tragedy – and this is where directors Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui get into trouble.
McQueen took his own life in 2010. Clearly, he dealt with “personal demons.” But this film gives too much importance to the trope of the tortured genius. The idea that great art springs from trauma is ultimately dismissive of individual artists. It suggests their worth is tied to their unhappiness rather than hard work or originality.
This Van Gogh narrative is made painfully explicit by a portrait of McQueen that is slowly enveloped by a CGI potpourri of the macabre over the course of the film. What makes it particularly offensive is that it’s tacky as well as simplistic, reducing an otherwise complicated man to a well-trod stereotype. And it’s difficult to ignore since it highlights the film’s greatest weakness over and over again.
For all that, McQueen still manages to be among the best of its sub-genre of documentaries. Whether you are intimately familiar with the designer’s work or getting a first introduction, the directors bring to life the raw excitement of his clothes and the shows he put on to promote them. With intense emotional highs (occasionally veering towards overstimulation), this film will leave its audiences as literally breathless as the man himself.