Lee Alexander McQueen (1969-2010) was a sweet gay London lad who rose from humble working class origins to become a one of the most daringly innovative designers in the elite world of fashion. That ascent sent him to the coveted position as a designer for the legendary Givenchy House in Paris, the pinnacle of fashion and perfume in the eyes of many. His iconoclastic style offended some while it inspired others because of its all out rejection of traditional notions of beauty. McQueen’s runway catwalk showcased models who wore found materials and unlikely unconventional materials, rather than traditionally conceptualized use of fabric.
He disgusted and he enthralled. Whether the model was an amputee, countering fixed notions of beauty, or someone appearing feral as an artifice, looking more as if they had come out of a bog than a ball, McQueen defied the norm at every turn. This defiance intensified as he ultimately reached a point where he committed suicide by hanging.
Though the Ian Bonhote/Peter Ettedgui documentary, titled McQueen, doesn’t avoid his audacity, which could be dreadfully harsh in both his art and personal life, it certainly celebrates his unquestionable uniqueness. Their film stands out obtrusively in our time when gay and bisexual men are seduced to bask in the sunshine of acceptance and equality, greased by a culture of celebrity where Anderson Cooper and Ellen Degeneres reinforce a rosy image of gay success. Interviews with family, close friends, associates, and archival footage vivify the fashion world at the turn of the past century. In some ways, McQueen may come to be seen as emblematic of the era it recounts.
However, rather than basking under the sun, this is a work that says one would be wise to examine one’s own foibles. Alexander McQueen’s dark side is revealed as something that emerged as his career progressed. He appears to have gone from being a warm-hearted young gay boy to someone who could be terribly cruel to those close to him. McQueen is worth the price of admission for gay and bisexual men to reflect and muse on just what may have prompted this behavior. Was it too much success too early on? Was it existential despair over being HIV-positive? Was it addiction? Was it internalized self-loathing for being gay? Was it unworthiness that somehow got projected onto those around him? What do his expressionistic designs tell us about his states of mind over his extraordinary career? McQueen impels us to ponder these things. Alexander’s demons fly out at us as we watch him unravel and yet express himself so beguilingly in this unsettling documentary.
Uptown Theatre, 2906 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis