Alexander McQueen, or Lee to those who knew him, was perhaps the defining fashion designer of his era, the one who was willing to go to extremes in ways that seized the headlines and had even those outside of the fashion world talking. What was interesting about him was that he was not born into the business, he had what might be described as a humble, working class beginning and only got his chance to design when his mother suggested to him that he sign up for an apprenticeship with a Savile Row tailor. As he had spent most of his schooldays doodling clothes on his exercise books and had only really enjoyed art lessons, this was precisely the road in he needed.
If you wanted to see this documentary on the man, you would most probably know how it ended, and if you didn't you would likely twig when any interview footage with him was taken from the archive rather than anything contemporary to the other interviews (or the larger proportion of them). Yes, McQueen had ended his own life, and with that in mind you might expect the film to play up the tortured artist angle, yet directors Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui assembled a collection of clips, a few interviews and a Michael Nyman score and somewhat plainly edited them together, against the more flamboyant stylings of their subject - a curious choice.
Fair enough, there were portentous interstitials with the title of each "Tape" (section) every so often, and the occasional arty touch such as the presence of a butterfly or two, but for the greater amount of this it simply allowed the clips to speak for themselves, when they were not embellished by the observations of the interviewees who offered their own insights into the man in question. What could have been a riot of exuberance and a rollercoaster of emotions was presented with a surprisingly sober tone, almost as if the directors were keen to be as respectful as possible which saw to it that this would be as serious-minded as they were able to make it, regardless of amusement.
This was at heart a tale of mental illness turning inexorably into self-destruction, or it was in its latter stages, but as we could see, McQueen could be a charming and larger than life personality when he was not being modest about his abilities, and that didn't really come across as much as his inner demons that led him to lash out at those who appreciated him, and fixate on aspects of his life that a degree of perspective could have helped him to cope when the inevitable low points arrived. In place of this, they resorted to letting the work speak for itself, but when that work contained a frequently grotesque, not to say grim, quality which made him famous, it was difficult to get away from the turmoil stewing in his brain, so that as with almost every suicide, the way they left the world overwhelmed anything in their lives previously.
This feeling of being on railway tracks leading to anguished doom was not exactly exploitative, the directors couldn't really ignore it after all, but it did take the edge off the bursts of theatrical creativity that exploded from McQueen's fertile imagination. When he was not taken with the potential for technology, he was inspired by aspects of his life, such as the domestic abuse his sister suffered or the Scottish roots he embraced as one who has never been brought up there only can, and that led to his early, headline-grabbing Highland Rape show where he was accused of hating women. At least this film acted as a riposte to the idea that gay designers detest females, hence their wild ideas for distorting their forms rather than complementing them, as McQueen does come across as loving women even when he has personal problems with his friends: his wealthy benefactor Isabella Blow is depicted as being chewed up and spat out by him, when the truth seems more complex. If you didn't know McQueen, this was a very decent primer, but experts may find it mainly useful as a wallow.